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An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

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C'est pas Mécanique

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Monday, March 26, 2007day link 

 Savants and synestesia
picture Daniel Tammet is a savant with quite fantastic mental abilities, and only few of the negative effects of autism. You can see a 50 minute documentary with him here. Amongst other feats, he has recited Pi to 22,500 decimals, and he can learn a new language in a week. In that program they put that to the test, by asking him to learn Icelandic in 7 days. Icelandic is very hard, but at the end of the week, he was interviewed on Icelandic TV and had obviously mastered it.

Part of what is interesting is that, as many autistic savants, part of his trick is synestesia. What is particularly unique about him is that he can articulate his own mental processes. He loves numbers, but he doesn't really do calculations. He experiences each number as a certain visual pattern. Each number from 1 to 10,000 has a certain distinct shape and color to him, which he can draw or model in clay. When he's asked to calculate something, the result sort of flickers in front of his eyes, and he simply reads off what he sees.

One of the researchers tried to throw him off by presenting him with a section of the decimals of Pi which was wrong, with some digits in the wrong place. And, whereas the real series of decimals is pure beauty to him, the false series gave him a strong reaction of being wrong and disharmonious.

What's sort of interesting and inspiring about people like that is that it hints at the possibility that anybody could do the same thing, if we better understood how. Their brains have somehow become short-circuited a bit, so they don't have the filters 'normal' people have, but they have more direct access to their abilities. Which often comes with a cost of lost functionality in some other area, or an inability in understanding emotions. But sometimes it doesn't.

.. Oops, I actually wrote about him before. I was looking for a picture of him, and Google suggested I'd find it on ming.tv. I guess I don't have perfect memory.
[ | 2007-03-26 20:35 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, March 23, 2007day link 

 To simplify things

You need only two tools: WD-40 and duct tape.

If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40.

If it moves and shouldn't, use the duct tape.
(Via Vila)
[ | 2007-03-23 18:38 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 The worst company in America
picture Over 100,000 people have voted at Consumerist on who they think is the worst company in America. A well deserved number one, beating the likes of Haliburton and Monsanto, is RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America.

It shouldn't be any big surprise. Not only have they succeeded in turning all their customers into their enemies, they might also have managed to permanently destroy the music business altogether. And that despite the billions of dollars they have in the bank and the hundreds of corrupt politicians they've bought off.

I wouldn't mind paying for music, but personally I'm never going to pay another dime to anybody who has any kind of link to the RIAA.
[ | 2007-03-23 18:39 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, March 22, 2007day link 

 The Air Car
picture GizMag:
Many respected engineers have been trying for years to bring a compressed air car to market, believing strongly that compressed air can power a viable "zero pollution" car. Now the first commercial compressed air car is on the verge of production and beginning to attract a lot of attention, and with a recently signed partnership with Tata, India’s largest automotive manufacturer, the prospects of very cost-effective mass production are now a distinct possibility.

...Most importantly, it is incredibly cost-efficient to run – according to the designers, it costs less than one Euro per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 68 mph.

Refilling the car will, once the market develops, take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately 1.5 Euros, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometres.

As a viable alternative, the car carries a small compressor which can be connected to the mains (220V or 380V) and refill the tank in 3-4 hours.

Due to the absence of combustion and, consequently, of residues, changing the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 50,000 Km.
Sounds great. So, what are we waiting for?
[ | 2007-03-22 16:33 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 France opens secret UFO files
picture Breitbart:
France became the first country to open its files on UFOs Thursday when the national space agency unveiled a website documenting more than 1,600 sightings spanning five decades.

The online archives, which will be updated as new cases are reported, catalogues in minute detail cases ranging from the easily dismissed to a handful that continue to perplex even hard-nosed scientists.

"It is a world first," said Jacques Patenet, the aeronautical engineer who heads the office for the study of "non-identified aerospatial phenomena."

Known as OVNIs in French, UFOs have always generated intense interest along with countless conspiracy theories about secretive government cover-ups of findings deemed too sensitive or alarming for public consumption.

"Cases such as the lady who reported seeing an object that looked like a flying roll of toilet paper" are clearly not worth investigating, said Patenet.

But many others involving multiple sightings -- in at least one case involving thousands of people across France -- and evidence such as burn marks and radar trackings showing flight patterns or accelerations that defy the laws of physics are taken very seriously.

A phalanx of beefy security guards formed a barrier in front of the space agency (CNES) headquarters where the announcement was made, "to screen out uninvited UFOlogists," an official explained.

Of the 1,600 cases registered since 1954, nearly 25 percent are classified as "type D", meaning that "despite good or very good data and credible witnesses, we are confronted with something we can't explain," Patenet said.
This is their website. Seems to be down right now, so obviously it is popular. And it is a courageous thing to do. It would of course be more interesting if it were the Americans, who sofar haven't succeeded in coming up with more than phoney studies like Project Blue Book, that ignored most of their own data and concluded that nothing whatsoever has ever been going on, other than weather balloons and mass hysteria.
[ | 2007-03-22 16:42 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 E8
picture National Science Foundation:
Ever since 1887, when Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie discovered the mathematical group called E8, researchers have been trying to understand the extraordinarily complex object described by a numerical matrix of more than 400,000 rows and columns.

Now, an international team of experts using powerful computers and programming techniques has mapped E8--a feat numerically akin to the mapping of the human genome--allowing for breakthroughs in a wide range of problems in geometry, number theory and the physics of string theory.
You can read about it in Wikipedia. I don't really understand a word of it. It has a lot of dimensions, but I don't get whether it is 8 or 57 or 248, but it is obviously very complex. And somehow important to string theory and other fields. So, good job, I guess. I can't wait for the origami version.
[ | 2007-03-22 16:53 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, March 21, 2007day link 

 Cymatics and group formation
picture Cymatics is the study of wave phenomena. More specifically, the word is used to describe the production of physical patterns by making sound waves interact with a medium. You put some sand or powder on a surface, and make the surface vibrate with a certain frequency and wave form, and the material organizes itself into interesting patterns, like mandalas. Swiss scientist Hans Jenny studied that a lot, and coined the word cymatics for it.

See youtube videos here, here, here or here. Some of them create stationary patterns, others, like #3, create a continuous flow.

Now Max Sandor suggests that this would somehow apply to the study of how groups form and how they behave, and I think I agree.
A group behaviour follows the same pattern as an acoustic resonance on loose particles (cymatics).

Notes:
1. Formative stages:
formation of a new group out of individual cells that splits in various smaller groups before being 'eaten' by a central organization, except for a renegade colony.

2. It can be shown that even without a modulation (change) of frequency of the group energy, there is a dynamic flux of group members in and out the group and a cross-fertilization (often destructive) of competing sub-groups which were formed from a central group, in turn formed out of a chaos.
But, now, those patterns are completely different depending on what the frequency is, and what the wave form is. Some produce nothing useful, and some produce amazingly intricate and beautiful patterns. Likewise, if you put a bunch of people together, sometimes nothing useful happens, and sometimes amazing synergies emerge. Understanding the keys would be very useful.

What would be the equivalent of the sound wave for a group of people? I'm not sure. Obviously a group has a certain vibe, particularly a well functioning group. There's some kind of resonance thing going on. A good group will continue in a stable pattern, even when members leave and new ones arrive. Some groups would keep being the same group even if you replaced all the members. So, something is holding it together, and it isn't unreasonable to describe that as a wave of some kind. Except for that we can't hear it, so we seem to have no good way of knowing what kind of frequency or wave form, and how it really is created and sustained.

But one could maybe reverse-engineer it a bit. Look at well-functioning groups, and try to establish what the pattern is. What kind of regions of activity do we see, and what is connecting them? Is there a central element, or a certain symmetry? Are the elements staying put, or cycling around in a certain way? And then maybe drawing some conclusions about what kind of vibe must be at work for that to happen.

If it were well understood, it might well be found that it is relatively small things that change the vibe. If you perform a symphony, and somebody drops a stack of plates in one of the quiet parts, that sort of colors the whole thing. But if you did it in one of the louder crescendo parts, it wouldn't make much difference. Or, you might have heard of the "broken window syndrome". If there's neighborhood with just one broken window in one building, or one abandoned car, or something like that, the whole area is likely to end up as a run down, "bad" neighborhood. Because, somehow, people sub-consciously pick up the vibe, "Oh, this is the kind of place this is", and act accordingly, and it is contageous. In some French metro stations they play classical music over the speakers, and they spread a light perfumed scent everywhere. Because they've found that it drastically reduces crime and littering. Doesn't take much.

In looking around for stuff on Hans Jenny, I also ran into this little article, from an Occult Design blog. See, this kind of thing with waves and patterns would be quite a magical thing if one masters it to any extent. Arranging things so that desirable things happen. A sort of feng shui. Move the receptionists desk 3 feet forward, and maybe a different resonance is formed. Would be worthwhile to know.
[ | 2007-03-21 14:20 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Free Thought the simplicity of life
Graviton Ring:
The spirit, in my opinion, is VERY simple. Are you aware of yourself and of others? That awareness is your spirit. It had no beginning. It has no ending. No one gave it to you. No one can take it away. It has always existed exactly as it does now, and it always will exist exactly as it is now. It never goes anywhere. There is no place to go. The spirit of awareness simply is the way any sentient being observes reality. The spirit is not physical in any way. It observes the physical reality.

The physical reality is completely different than the spirit, however, the spirit and the physical reality cannot exist without each other. The human body, or any aspect of the physical reality, obviously appears and disappears, while changing constantly. The spirit simply observes these changes. There are an infinite set of changes in the physical reality. There are also an infinite set of new ideas in the spiritual reality. The only thing required to do is pay attention to reality.

If there is any need for a moral structure in religion or society, then the laws of such a structure are always about the physical reality. How could any laws tell anyone how to think, or how to see reality. The spirit of awareness does not need any laws, it does not do anything except see the physical reality. The human body needs laws, moral values, maybe a structured society when there is a large number of humans alive. However, that was not always the case. Life was meant to be simple.

The simplicity of life is that we consist of a spirit of awareness. The physical reality seems to be a part of who we are, however, the spirit, in my opinion, is the actual way we are. The physical reality, including the human body, appears and disappears, and evolves over billions of years. The spirit simply continues to do what it does now, it observes these changes. There are no spiritual laws. Laws are about humanity and physical reality. Spirit is simply infinite, eternal awareness.
I see it in very similar ways. The physical world is always changing, everything is temporary, but in some kind of evolution. But, yet, no matter what, I always seem to be there to observe it. And that *me* doesn't seem to change. Oh, I've learned things, changed how I do things, etc, but the me who observes, it is the same as it always has been. I'm maybe a little more awake, but my awareness seems to be the same as it was at any time I can remember. We can call that awareness, consciousness, spirit, or whatever. It is a bit mysterious what that really is, and how that came about, but the only satisfying explanation is that at least it isn't just a side-effect of a physical phenomenon. It would suck if I were just a brain, but luckily I don't think I am, and I don't think that I as a point of awareness arise from the physical. Oh, I'm tightly interwoven with it, for sure. Most of what I do and think involves physical stuff, and the filters of my brain, and what I've experienced. My identity is some kind of mix of these things. But the pure awareness seems to be something eternal.

And, yes, things go a bit crazy when humans try to control and regulate how one thinks and how one is supposed to see things. The wires get crossed a bit. Physical reality needs organization and regulation to some extent. But when you try to control the consciousness of others, it generally isn't with their best interest in mind. And generally it starts with convincing others that they don't really exist, and their thoughts are just government or church property, and just random neural signals in the first place.
[ | 2007-03-21 14:45 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, March 17, 2007day link 

 The caves on Mars
picture That's fun news. Caves on Mars.
The caves may be the only natural structures capable of protecting primitive life forms from micrometeoroids, UV radiation, solar flares and high energy particles that bombard the planet's surface.

The spacecraft spotted what seemed to be vertical "skylight" entrances to caves below the surface.

There is a sheer drop of between about 80m and 130m or more to the cave floors below.

During the day, one of the features - nicknamed "Annie" - is warmer than surrounding pits and cooler than sunlit areas.

Night time temperatures are warmer than nearly all surrounding areas.

Co-author Glen Cushing, from the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, said this was exactly what would be expected if the feature were a cave.
And, on top of that, they've also discovered huge ice deposits on the south pole of Mars. Up to 2.3 miles thick. Enough water to cover the whole planet with 36 feet of water, if it melted. ... Of course, that would flood the caves too.
[ | 2007-03-17 16:20 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

 The Digital Bedouins and the Backpack Office
picture Slashdot:
"The laptop and wireless revolutions have led to the rise of a new class of digital 'Bedouins' — tech workers who ply their crafts from Starbucks and other locations with WiFi access. Another article describes some strategies and tools for embracing the Bedouin way of life, and even having fun: 'If you have the right kind of job, you can take vacations while you're on the clock. In other words, you can travel for fun and adventure and keep on working. You can travel a lot more without needing more official vacation time. I've done it. In August I took a month long vacation to Central America, backpacking from one Mayan ruin to the next, and I never officially took time off. I submitted my columns, provided reports and other input, participated in conference calls and interacted via e-mail. I used hotel Wi-Fi connections and local cybercafes to communicate and Skype to make business calls. Nobody knew I was sunburned, drinking from a coconut and listening to howler monkeys as I replied to their e-mails.'"
I like the concept very much, but are we really there yet? I feel very disconnected if I'm not by my broadband connection at home. Even if I stayed within my very civilized high-tech French metropolis, I'd have lots of trouble staying connected. Very few open WiFi connections. Lots of cybercafés, but I'd have to use their crappy Windows computers. My 3G phone should in principle keep me connected, but I haven't figured out how to use it as a modem yet, and the data charges are insanely expensive.

I started trying to work as a digital nomad almost 20 years ago. I'd go travelling for weeks without officially being on vacation, but bringing a 20 pound laptop, and a bag full of road warrior gadgets. But I always had trouble, and it never turned out like I planned. Little things like it being illegal to buy a phone plug in Germany at the time. Or incompatible digital phone systems in hotels. OK, now with wifi and ubiquitous broadband, it should be easier. Except for if all the wifi connections are locked down, or they're $20 per hour. Of if you're visiting somebody with broadband, but they insist you don't touch their USB DSL modem, even though you brought a wifi DSL router.

But I guess it is time for taking a fresh look at the best-of-breed tools for digital nomads.
[ | 2007-03-17 16:47 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, March 16, 2007day link 

 Logic and the Autobahn
picture A minor news item. The EU would like Germany to establish a speed limit on the Autobahn, in order to save gas and limit global warming. And the German's don't like it much, as "free driving for free citizens" is a popular type of slogan, and the absence of a speed limit is a powerful symbol.

And actually they're right about that, and it shouldn't be underestimated. For that matter, the mere existence of the Autobahn is the cause of a certain delight in people all over the world, whether they're ever going to drive on it or not. I'd seen met quite a few Americans who at the mere mention of German freeways would lighten up and exlaim something like "Ah! The Autobahn - the orgasm of freeways!". So, don't discount the value of symbols of freedom. Makes people happy to know that somewhere in the world one can drive as fast as one feels like.

But, actually, the point I wanted to make wasn't that, but rather I wanted to comment on the logic behind a policy decision like that, to limit speed in order to burn less gas.

It can easily be demonstrated that a car uses less gas at a lower speed. Like, CNN sent a guy out in a BMW to drive fast. And, yes, when he was going 220km/h, and then slowed down to 130km/h, the car's fuel consumption indicator showed that he used half as much gas per 100km distance at the lower speed.

And, clearly, if you got everybody to drive slower, some gas would be saved, and there'd be less polution. Not very much less, actually only about 0.6% according to the calculations, as most people really aren't driving 220km/h all the time.

Many people will say that it is perfectly logical to limit speeds in order to save gas and produce less polution. But I say that it is perfectly illogical. What you do there is that you pick a target that as a side effect will have the result you're looking for, but which isn't it. See, you're perfectly free to buy an SUV that goes 2km on a liter, and which would use much more gas and pollute much more at 130km/h than more efficient cars would at 220km/h. I'm free to burn as much gas as I want, really, driving alone in my SUV.

Point being, if you want to set a rule about using less gas, you should make a rule about using less gas. You know, like, you can't use more than 5 liters of gas per person per 100km.

I know many people will not understand what I'm saying, and will say that it is just splitting hairs needlessly, and of course driving more slowly will save gas. But the reason it is worth attention is that it is the same thinking that drives a great many policies and laws that governments make.

It is in a similar vein as "We want to protect the children, so therefore we'll monitor everybody's computers". In order to exert an effort towards your aim, you do something entirely different, which amongst its many side effects has one that is deemed related to the stated target. I.e. maybe you'll catch some child molester if you monitor everybody's computers, but you'll also add a lot of new evils into the world.

An old comic pops into my mind here. This one guy is stabbing this other guy with a big knife. "Why are you killing me?", he says, "I haven't done anything against you". "Oh, no", the perpetrator says, "no offense, it isn't you, it's the guy underneath you I'm trying to get!".

In most places one lives in a society where a lot of laws and rules are there because somebody thought they might have a side effect that is desirable, and the decision was maybe backed by some statistic that showed that indeed it had that side effect. Often lots of other side effects were completely ignored. And most often, the original intent is forgotten too, and it becomes simply laws that somebody else is in charge of enforcing.

Like most other drivers, I spend a considerable portion of my mind power worrying about cops and radar traps. Does that make me a better and safer driver? No, that makes me a more nervous and unsafe driver, using my free attention on something that doesn't contribute to better driving in any way. It is perfectly legal to be a lousy and dangerous driver, as long as you have a driver's license. Because the law doesn't enforce safe driving, it enforces things like speed limits, which statistically have been found to have desirable side benefits, but which produce negative side effects for many of the individuals who need to worry about them.

Policy makers are often very bad at understanding systems. They will often traffic in fragmented campaigns that will demonstrate that they take a certain issue seriously. Sort of, "We have to at least try to ...". Try to limit polution, lower crime rates, protect children, or whatever. And if they can present a study that says that their new law produced a 5% drop in whatever it was, it would be considered a success. Even though the whole system isn't working any better, and possibly might be working a lot worse in many other ways.
[ | 2007-03-16 01:50 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Mohammed, the mastermind
picture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, confesses to being responsible for just about every terror attack that happened anywhere in the past 10 years. Although there's some concern that maybe he's exaggerating a little bit. Maybe because he was tortured just a little bit. But he says that he for sure was responsible for planning 9/11 "from A to Z".

Good, I'm really looking forward to hearing how he managed to melt that steel in the foundation of the towers, and for that matter how he brought them down in such a neatly executed demolition, with nothing but jet fuel and burning office supplies. And Building Seven, I'm really looking forward to that explanation. Conveniently bringing down the 47-story building that housed the New York City Emergency Command Center, and the local offices of the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, with nothing but falling debris. Must have been quite a master plan.
[ | 2007-03-16 02:08 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, March 15, 2007day link 

 Popping
picture Slashdot on a speech by Stephen Hawking a few days ago:
Speaking to a sold out crowd at the Berkeley Physics Oppenheimer Lecture, Hawking said yesterday that he now believes the universe spontaneously popped into existence from nothing. He said more work is needed to prove this but we have time because 'Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.'
Uhm, yeah, but it sort of goes faster in the middle. And who doesn't love spontaneous popping-into-existence.
[ | 2007-03-15 01:04 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

 Structural holes
Howard Rheingold on Smart Mobs:
Ronald Burt pointed out the importance of "structural holes" -- those nodes (people) that connect networks. If I know person A and person B and person A and B ought to know each other, but don't, I am occupying a "structural hole" in their intersecting social networks, and making that introduction could create social capital for me as well as them. Substitute "idea" for "person." This is where I live and why I hang out online for no really well-defined purpose. Burt's paper is a 58 page PDF.
Ah, love that. I want to be a better structural hole.
[ | 2007-03-15 01:06 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Laughter
picture Researchers studying laughter say that..
It's an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It's not about getting the joke. It's about getting along. It's a way to make friends and also make clear who belongs where in the status hierarchy.
What I think is funny is the thought of serious scientists in lab coats wracking their brains to try to make sense out of laughter.

Are they right? Hm, I don't know. One can very well laugh for no reason at all. That's an old sort of meditation technique, for that matter. But that doesn't mean it is just a social thing.

What is humor? I'd say it is when one notices something that is off, out of place, and one notices it within a certain rhythm where it produces a freeing up of ... something ... emotional energy, I suppose we could say. It is not mental per se, but it does have something to do with perception, how one sees and experiences things. A joke is not per definition funny or not. All depends on the circumstances and the rhythm of delivery, and whether there's something that gets liberated from it. And something can well be liberated without any particular logical reason.

It is when you see the sillyness of reality, any kind of reality, imagined or not. It is when you look through the world and realize that it isn't really as serious and coherent as it pretends to be. It is a joke. It is a bit of enlightenment to notice that. Might have nothing directly to do with what somebody just said.

But just about getting along? I don't think I buy that. Why would one laugh alone, then?
[ | 2007-03-15 01:47 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 You live longer if you have a sense of humor
YahooNews:
Laugh and the world laughs with you. Even better, you might live longer, a Norwegian researcher reports.

Adults who have a sense of humor outlive those who don't find life funny, and the survival edge is particularly large for people with cancer, says Sven Svebak of the medical school at Norwegian University of Science and Technology...

In a subgroup of 2,015 who had a cancer diagnosis at the start, a great sense of humor cut someone's chances of death by about 70% compared with adults with a poor sense of humor, Svebak says.
And, in case you didn't live longer, you'd have had a better time of course.
[ | 2007-03-15 14:46 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, March 11, 2007day link 

 The Art of Creating a Community
Guy Kawasaki's advice on how to build a community, in particular a user community. These are the bullet points:
1. Create something worth building a community around.
2. Identify and recruit your thunderlizards—immediately!
3. Assign one person the task of building a community.
4. Give people something concrete to chew on.
5. Create an open system.
6. Welcome criticism.
7. Foster discourse.
8. Publicize the existence of the community.

[ | 2007-03-11 01:44 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 One Million Splotz of Glue
Lloyd Y. Asato's One Million Splotz of Glue Campaign:
It begins with a question. What do you do to build community? Your answer, the action that you do to build community, is what we call Splotz of Glue.

Splotz of Glue are the key everyday actions that we do to be better informed, to connect with others, to build trust, and to get involved. Splotz of Glue, when done together and in abundance, have the cumulative effect of improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods...

I will collect, catalogue, and contemplate One Million Splotz of Glue. I will shine a spotlight on the everyday things we do to BuildCommunity. I will encourage new acts of Splotzing, and facilitate a larger conversation about Social Capital and Community Building.
That sounds good. I don't understand exactly what it is. ... Hm, of course it might be just that: gathering little stories and ideas about building community. Maybe that'll just work somehow. The actual site for the Million Splotz thing is here, and is a blog, basically. Some commentary here from Doc Searls, who, when asked how he builds community answered this:
The short answer: I don't.

The longer answers: I start fires. Or I roll snowballs. Cluetrain was a fire. Still is. It took communication (not community) to start it. The four authors of that tome have only seen each other in the flesh, as a group, twice. If there's a cluetrain "community", I'm not sure what it is. A lot of friends and fellow-travelers, sure; but not "community". User-centric Identity is a snowball. It's also a community, to the degree that it's organized, sort of.

[ | 2007-03-11 01:52 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Spiritual Castro
Sides of Fidel Castro that maybe are little known. This Washington Post article talks about a collection of letters he wrote while in prison in the 50s, which hadn't appeared in English before. Which in part show spiritual depths one maybe wouldn't expect of a future communist dictator. Like, addressing the father of a fallen comrade, he writes:
"I will not speak of him as if he were absent, he has not been and he will never be. These are not mere words of consolation. Only those of us who feel it truly and permanently in the depths of our souls can comprehend this. Physical life is ephemeral, it passes inexorably. . . . This truth should be taught to every human being -- that the immortal values of the spirit are above physical life. What sense does life have without these values? What then is it to live? Those who understand this and generously sacrifice their physical life for the sake of good and justice -- how can they die? God is the supreme idea of goodness and justice."

[ | 2007-03-11 02:09 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, March 9, 2007day link 

 Web 2.0
What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education is a long paper in PDF format, written by Paul Anderson, giving probably the best overview I've seen, of what Web 2.0 is, and the various components that connect into it. The super-condensed executive summary would be that these 6 points are the main traits of Web2.0:
1. Individual production and User Generated Content
2. Harnessing the power of the crowd
3. Data on an epic scale
4. Architecture of Participation
5. Network Effects
6. Openness

[ | 2007-03-09 23:44 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 The ends justify the means
It is often used as a way of condemning terrorists or other people who do bad things to try to achieve their aims. They're usually presented as having the misguided idea that destructive actions can get a constructive result. Idealists who think they'll arrive at a utopia by killing off whatever is in their way. And of course there are some problems with that kind of thinking. But it has somehow become accepted in the public mind that of course the ends never ever justify the means. Which is an equally silly logical trap.

Of course the ends justify the means, if the ends really are desirable and beneficial for everybody concerned.

If you engage in something, any kind of activity or project or process, that has multiple steps to it, and the final result after the dust settles, is something good and positive and enlightening for most everybody who were and are involved, then you probably did a good thing. Even if some of the steps were painful. If the result is not painful, then maybe the pain was worth it.

The sloppiness enters when defining what a positive outcome is. If you have 2 million people, and you're willing to kill 1 million of them so that the other million can live in peace and harmony afterwards, then you obviously have a problem calculating positive outcomes. It wouldn't look very positive for the million that you had to exterminate. A positive outcome is a positive outcome for the whole, for everybody and everything involved. And if you had followed that plan there, you'd of course discover that the remaining people wouldn't feel very harmonious if you had killed half of the people they knew.

But if you actually had a positive outcome? If your revolution really resulted in general peace, harmony and enlightenment for everybody concerned, then whatever steps you took to get there would be perfectly justified. The ends justify the means. But only the real ends, the actual result, not just the ends you hallucinate you'll get when you start off on some kind of destructive path.

"You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs", as one says. Although that's usually used as a justification for being mean to somebody, or firing half of your employees or something. But, yes, sometimes a bit of pain is necessary as part of a process that will have a positive outcome.

The means that are applied to arrive at a certain result are an integral part of the process. They're not different things. Things go a little insane when one tries to break life down into things that are always right to do or always wrong to do. Most governments and religions go overboard with that, and pretend to know exactly what's right to do, or rather what's always wrong to do, even though they don't know you, and they don't know your circumstances, and they really don't know the outcome of your actions. Is it really always wrong to run a red light? No, it depends on the result you'll get by doing it versus not doing it. If you saved somebody's life, it was the right thing to do. Running that red light was not a destructive erosion of public order, if you did it to get somebody to the hospital in time. Or even to accomplish something less, but nevertheless good and necessary.

A slap in the face might be an enlightening wakeup call, if delivered at the right time. Or it might simply be one person being mean to another. It depends.

Everything depends on what process it is part of, and what its outcome is. Not just its imagined outcome, but its actual outcome. The whole thing is much more important than the pieces seen in isolation.

But a positive outcome is more likely to be achieved if each step of the way is carried out with a consciousness of the whole. It is sort of a fractal thing. Each step of a process will carry with it the seed or the pattern of where this is going. And if the steps don't harmonize with the result, you might not really be doing what you think you're doing.

You don't spread happiness by being mean to people. If that's really what you're doing. But sometimes you might do something that appears mean at a superficial glance, but which accomplishes a greater good.

Blowing up other people's houses at random would not be very nice. But you might have to blow up one house to build a better one, which its owners would be more happy with. The destruction might look the same, but it depends on what process and what outcome it is connected with.

Breaking people's lives into little pieces, and making laws about how they're not supposed to do each of them - that's of course an attempt to control them. And that means you. It is somebody's misguided idea about how to create a stable society. Limit everybody a little bit, make lots of lines they aren't supposed to cross, put the people who cross them in jail, or at least hurt them a bit, and the rest of us will have a harmonious society. Of course that's one of the anti-examples of the ends justifying the means idea. You don't create a society of productive, creative, free people by taking away a great deal of their creativity and freedom. If that's the aim, then different means are needed.

It is a well known principle that in a project, you can't keep quality, time and cost/resources fixed and constant the same time. You can maybe pick two of them, with some luck. If you want high quality and you want it quickly, it will probably be expensive. If you want it good, but cheap, it might take some time to find, etc. You can't say you want it perfect and for 50 dollars and you want it tomorrow morning. You have to leave something variable.

The same way, you can't keep both the steps to take and the outcome fixed. At least not if you're doing anything just slightly new, that involves uncertainty. In principle, you can either say "Follow these exact steps, and wherever you end up is fine", or you can say "This is what we want, do whatever it takes to get there". Or, of course, some kind of combination. But you will only see successful actions if the people who do them have some freedom to choose how to go about getting them. If they don't, you've have to settle for 'whatever' as the outcome.

If you succeed in doing something that is all-around desirable, positive and useful, with no dead bodies swept under the carpet, your means were obviously well chosen and justified. If you end up making a crappy mess, your means will not be justified.
[ | 2007-03-09 23:46 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, March 7, 2007day link 

 Dick Hardt style
picture Sounds like a porn movie. But, no, Dick Hardt is a CEO of Sxip Identity, and the point here is his style of doing a presentation. See a video of his Identity2.0 presentation at OSCon. Lots and lots of slides, with just a few words or a picture each, creating an interesting flow of a presentation, which in many ways work better than a normal powerpoint presentation with bullet points, etc.

Hardt didn't invent this style, but it somehow got associated with his name. Rather, Lawrence Lessig has used it for a while, and I've seen it before in videos of his talks. So, Lessig Style would be as correct.

Interestingly, both of these guys are fairly boring speakers. If they were just standing there talking, they're not exactly great orators. But combined with a dynamic presentation like that, they're great speakers who everybody pays attention to all the time.

Hm, I've got to try that. Most Powerpoint presentations are boring. Time for some innovation.

(Via Cedric)
[ | 2007-03-07 22:18 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >



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