Saturday, July 30, 2005

Support the Troops, Bring Them Home

Jewels invited me to a peace rally today in Echo Park (part of Los Angeles). They hold them every Friday, but the last Friday of the month they advertise it and try to get more people to come visit. It was fun and a good workout for the arms.

If anyone's interested in going some week, drop me a line. It's a pretty informal group, although some of them are affiliated with Neighbors for Peace and Justice.

Random RFID update: The US-Canadian border gets high tech

This item was posted to one of the listservs I belong to.

Selected quote:

As part of the [controversial US-VISIT] program, U.S.-bound landed immigrants, or any other non-Canadian citizen who requires a temporary VISA to enter the U.S. for business or pleasure, would have to undergo biometric digital photographs when they cross the border, as well as finger scans at a secondary inspection centre on subsequent visits.

The information is stored and cross-referenced with an FBI databases to determine if visitors might be wanted for immigration issues, or are on a list of suspected terrorist links.

Canadian citizens are the only ones in the world who are exempt from US-VISIT. However, thanks to lobbing by the Canadian Trucking Alliance and other business trade groups, the U.S. has also to some degree exempted permanent resident truck drivers from the program. (emphasis added) |Link|
Of course the US-Canadian border is the world's largest ungaurded border. So I don't think this will keep terrorists from coming into the country. And how many terrorists do we have biometric information on already?

I suppose a photo is simple biometric information. So do you think this means they're running facial recognition software on the database?

Even if this system doesn't catch (m)any terrorists, it will compile a great deal of information for data mining.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The bloggification of CSM

I've been reading the Christian Science Monitor more of late since I added it to my homepage tabs in Firefox. What strikes me is the way many of the articles resemble blog posts more than traditional self-contained newspaper articles.

Take for instance this article by Tom Regan titled Can US, Britain 'win' in Iraq? which is chock full of links and quotes to other news sources.

CSM has become hypermedia.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Privacy, Ethics and System Design

Benjamin D. Brunk has an article Understanding the Privacy Space where he examines the human-computer interactions and how they relate to privacy.

The privacy space is an exemplar of a human value (the desire to control personal information flows) instantiated via the design of software systems and services. Here, we see how privacy, a subject with ethical import, relates to system design and usability. Systems may be designed from the outset or modified by users to enhance usability and help them realize their goals and intentions, including those related to privacy.

Thus, for the purposes of this research, we define "online privacy" as having the ability to control information leaving you while online, and being able to exercise that control consistent with your values. In a passive sense, privacy is also about being able to control unwanted instrusions. We claim that people seek designs that provide easy and effective ways to achieve online privacy, verify that they have done so, and monitor effectiveness.|Link|
Privacy is about establishing boundaries for sharing with others, and the information sharing capabilities of our web-savvy society are what make privacy so novel and exciting these days.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Museum of Bad Art

Art too bad to be ignored.

The nail in the coffin of the non-proliferation treaty?

Howard LaFranchi's analysis of Bush's plan to give India more access to nuclear technology raises serious questions about what this administration's goals are.

The proposed extension of nuclear access to [India, which the] White House likes to call "the world's largest democracy" raises questions about potential impact on other countries with nuclear ambitions and designs for international status...especially...just days before the European Union is to return to negotiations with Iran to end its nuclear-weapons programs and six-party talks are to take up again in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear program.

But perhaps the greatest significance of the plan is what it says about 21st century geopolitics and in particular about a Bush administration vision for dealing with China, some analysts say.

"The crux of this announcement is what it tells us about the US grand strategy, and that behind whatever else is going on here the US is preparing for a grand conflict with China and constructing an anti-China coalition," says Joseph Cirincione, head of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "In that scenario, India is even more valuable as a nuclear power, rather than as a nonnuclear country."

The White House plan, which would allow India broader access to international technology for its nuclear power industry in exchange for India granting some access to international inspections, still faces high hurdles: Opposition is expected to be strong both in the US Congress and among other nuclear powers who along with the US would have some say.

In the view of some specialists, the plan would certainly erode and perhaps mean the scrapping of decades of international nonproliferation effort in favor of an ad hoc, case-by-case approach that rewards certain countries while punishing others. "This is a plan that chooses good guys and bad guys, and says that what matters is power politics and not nonproliferation principles," Mr. Cirincione says. (emphasis mine) |Link|
This move shouldn't surprise me given Bush's niave tendency to see the entire world in terms of good and evil.

It is true that India is already a nuclear power and China is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world. Can't we all just see the light and start installing solar powers?

And what's going to happen to India and Pakistan's nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants and nuclear waste when the sea levels rise and much of India and Pakistan go underwater in a few decades?

(See Captain Sea Level's Links for a discussion of climate change.)

Random RFID Update: Miragraphy

The mirror/TV/home shopping center is yet another example of a technology that is limited to Japan at the moment.

But that's ok by me, cool but creepy is a good description of this technology.

So much for the free marketplace of ideas

One of the Information Studies faculty sent me a link to Human Events magazine, which asked conservative scholars to list the ten most dangerous books of the 20th century.

At first I thought it was a joke, but now I think these people are serious about it. I can't decide if that's funny or sad...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Protective Imagination

Richard Forno makes a good point in his comment We Still Lack Protective Imagination:

[The response to the London bombings] pretty much comes down to lots of guys with guns running around America's mass transit system in an effort to present the appearance of "increased security" to reassure the public. While such activities are a political necessity to show that our leaders are 'doing something' during a time of crisis we must remember that talk or activity is no substitute for progress or effectiveness.

Forget the fact that regular uniformed police officers and rail employees can sweep or monitor a train station just as well as a fully-decked-out SWAT team -- not to mention, they know it better, too. Forget that even with an added law enforcement presence, it's quite possible to launch a suicide attack on mass transit. Forget that a smart terrorist now knows that the DHS response to attacks is to "increase" the security of related infrastructures (e.g., train stations) and just might attack another, lesser-protected part of American society potentially with far greater success. In these and other ways today following the London bombings, the majority of security attention has been directed at mass transit. However, while we can't protect everything against every form of attack, our American responses remain conventional and predictable -- just as we did after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and today's events in London, we continue to respond in ways designed to "prevent the last attack."

In other words, we are demonstrating a lack of protective imagination.

Contrary to America's infatuation with instant gratification, protective imagination is not quickly built, funded, or enacted. It takes years to inculcate such a mindset brought about by outside the box, unconventional, and daring thinking from folks with expertise and years of firsthand knowledge in areas far beyond security or law enforcement and who are encouraged to think freely and have their analyses seriously considered in the halls of Washington. Such a radical way of thinking and planning is necessary to deal with an equally radical adversary, yet we remain entrenched in conventional wisdom and responses....

[N]early 4 years after 9/11, it's clear that despite the catchy sound-bytes and flurry of activity in the name of protecting the homeland, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. (emphasis mine) |Link|
Can we drop the rhetoric of the war on terrorism and get serious. Terrorism will never totally go away, it's important to keep that in mind. The existing political order will always be challenged by the disenfranchised and radicals. One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter.

So how do we deal with suicide bombers? Do we try to fortify all our soft targets? No, that's impossible and the cost would be prohibitive. Do we decide that a certain amount of risk is necessary for a free society?

Suicide terrorism is an almost unstoppable weapon. It is the freedom fighter's cruise missile.

Any suggestions on cultivating a protective imagination? I think we're all still trying to come to grips with the logic of suicide terrorism.

There is a demographic shift coming in the Arab world and if the local governments can't find employment for many of the youth, the world will get a lot more exciting in a bad way.

Think out of the box...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is persuasive to me. This came up the other day in the context of my criticism of Ayn Rand. Part of the reason we need each other and teams are so effective is because no one person is talented in all (or even many) of the types of intelligence.

The Stupidest Man in Congress

While there are a lot of stuffed shirts and semi-literates roaming the halls of Congress, I nominate Republican Thomas Tancredo of Colorado as the stupidest man in Congress.

Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican [Tancredo] how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded.

The congressman later said he was "just throwing out some ideas" and that an "ultimate threat" might have to be met with an "ultimate response."|CNN|
I understand how Representative Tancredo could arrive at the thought of bombing Mecca and how for a brief instant it might even seem like a reasonable, measured response. I could even imagine an otherwise thoughtful, intelligent person speaking this thought out loud to a trusted friend, colleague, or staff member.

However, to discuss this wild idea on a broadcast radio talk show is the height of stupidity.

Who's this guy been taking PR lessons from, Tom DeLay?

The Daily Times of Pakistan has picked up the story and the Turkish foreign minister has condemned the Congressman's remarks. But there is nothing but silence coming out of the White House.

Tancredo is a moron, but that isn't how this will play in the Muslim world I'm guessing. As if Osama bin Laden needed more recruiting material!

Note: Cross-posted at the Bellman.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Machines of loving grace

Check out Adam Greenfield's article All watched over by machines of loving grace: Some ethical guidelines for user experience in ubiquitous-computing settings over at Boxes and Arrows.

Selected quote:

Ubiquitous computing is coming. It is coming because there are too many too powerful institutions vested in its coming; it is coming because it is a “technically sweet” challenge; it is coming because it represents the eventual convergence of devices, tools and services that became inevitable the moment they each began to be expressed in ones and zeroes....

My sense is that the challenge of ubiquitous computing for user-experience professionals resides fundamentally in two places: in the regrettable quality of interaction typically manifested by complex digital products and services designed without some degree of qualified [user experience (UX)] intervention, and in the ease with which ubiquitous systems can overwhelm or render meaningless the prerogatives of privacy, self-determination and choice that have traditionally informed our understanding of civil liberty.

|Links in Original|


I didn't realize there was so much to know about hipsters until I read the Wikipedia entry.

Daily Show Talking Points

I don't take my news primarily from the Daily Show, unlike many in my demographic. But I always love to see Jon Stewart's spin on the world. Last night Jon asked: Does the Christian persecution complex have an expiration date? Because you guys have been in control since Constantine.

Personally I love any joke that invokes a roman emperor.

Did you see his interview with Marci Hamilton, the author of God vs. the Gavel?

(See also Blogcritics review of God vs. the Gavel)

The Daily Show really is the best fake news on TV.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I sing of books and the man...

Zwichenzug tagged me with the book meme. Of course books are just a format and aren't meaningful in and of themselves.

The book is merely a convenient package to carry around the printed word. But I'd just as soon read on a nice computer screen, a color palm pilot, or better yet, have a heads up display (HUD) projected onto my optic nerve. Or even hear a book on tape while driving.

Fiction is about good storytelling. Fiction was much more important to me when I was younger. Fiction was my great escape during my childhood. Now I am a man obsessed with the world about me. I rarely read for pleasure anymore, which is a shame. There are so many good books to read, but there is so much to be done in the world and so little Neal....

As an information scientist and practicing law librarian, I work with books every day. I like to scan the check-in cart and see what people are reading. I often pick up books and bring them home. I can bring books home faster than I can read them. I crave their knowledge though.

But I don't consider myself a bibliophile. I know some serious book nerds. I say that with affection, one nerd to another. I feel a strong kinship to my classmates in my library/archives/information science program.

I use the phrase bibliographic control to mean having control of and access to the printed word. I frequently cannot find the book I want when I need it. Therefore, by definition, I do not have bibliographic control over my personal book holdings. Now that I've taken two cataloging classes, I've a much better idea of what it takes to chase the illusion of true bibliographic control.

For librarians bibliographic control of books typically involves putting call numbers on (and in) the books and then developing a catalog to search the book records. At this very moment, I have 38 books checked out from UCLA. Which is a reasonable number to my mind. Some of them I have already read and am using in my thesis. Others I intend to read when I get some free time. I know people who have 400 books checked out to them.

Books are easy to copy catalog (you just crib off some other cataloger's hard work)....control of the digital articles I have on my computer is just as challenging. And then there are the print articles I have filed away and scattered about. I'm an information professional, but I too am afflicted by information overload.

The most recent book I've purchased was for class and is titled Information Architecture (Second Ed.) by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. It is commonly known as the polar bear book. This Wikipedia entry gives the first edition of the polar bear book credit for popularizing the term information architecture. This also happens to be the book I've read most recently.

The last book I purchased for pleasure was The Scar by China Mieville. I read the first chapter, put it down to work on school work, and later lost track of it. I'll find it someday soon and finish it on a plane or something.

That brings me to how many books I own. I have no earthly idea. And since I'm married, I guess I own all the books my wife owns too....I'm going to guess we have about 600 books in our apartment now. Book is a bit tricky to define even. By book I assume one means a single-volume monograph....but does one include monographic serials? There are lots of monographic serials, for instance, my wife has seven volumes of the Proceedings of the Soveriegnty Symposium. They issue a new volume every year after the conference. Is that a book or a serial? Hard to say....

Books are an important part of my life and I couldn't decide how to pick a few out. So I'm going for categories. We'll start with books dealing with war.

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This book helped me deal with the feeling of being a sane man in an insane world. The book doesn't offer any answers, rather a whimsical tour of life in a troubled world. It's also the funniest thing I've ever read.

  • Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. Perhaps the best anti-war book ever written. As more and more of our young men and women come back from Iraq with horrible, debilitating wounds, I think this book becomes ever more relevant. Our war stories are full of heroic young men...the disabled vet is shuffled to the side and out of sight.

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.
  • When I was in high school I read Tim's book If I Die in a Combat Zone which chronicled some of the things that happened to him in Vietnam. The Things They Carried is a more mature meditation on the meaning of war and its madness and about coming to terms with your obligation to your country and dealing with what happened to him and his friends in the war and after they came back to the world. This Wikipedia entry does a good job of explaining O'Brien's concept of story truth.
    In the short story, "Good Form," the narrator makes a distinction between "story truth" and "happening truth." O'Brien feels that the idea of creating a story that is technically false yet truthfully portrays war, as opposed to just stating the facts and creating no emotion in the reader, is the correct way to clear his conscience and tell the story of thousands of soldiers who were forever silenced by society. Critics often cite this disctinction when commenting on O'Brien's artistic aims in The Things They Carried and, in general, all of his fiction about Vietnam, claiming that O'Brien feels that the realities of the Vietnam War are best explored in fictional form rather than the presentation of so-called facts. |Link|
  • Jarhead by Anthony Swofford. Spike Magazine has a good review of the book here.

Science fiction books I have loved include:
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson. Neuromancer had a lot to do with my love of cyberpunk and my interest in becoming a cyborg.

  • Voice of the Whirlwind by Walter Jon Williams. As a teen, this book really spoke to me. The main character is adrift in a society he doesn't understand, full of rage, yet seeking a broader context. That was me as a teen in a nutshell.

Some other fiction that springs to mind:
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving

  • The Bourne Conspiracy by Robert Ludlum

  • The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

  • Some authors I have read so many of their books I couldn't even begin to name them all.

  • Kurt Vonnegut

  • Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Harlan Ellison

  • David Drake

  • David Weber

  • John Ringo

  • Gar Wilson

I also want to mention some non-fiction. I loved Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes.

Massad Ayoob is my favorite law enforcement, self defense, and survivalist writer.

I'm a big fan of history. I've recently read (or had read to me) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Confederates in the Attic, and Facing Westward: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building.

I may come back and add to this list later, but those are the ones who come to me right now.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A robot to watch over me

Alorie Gilbert has an interesting (if speculative) article on the use of robots as security guards, guide dogs and even to monitor children.

But Frontline isn't counting on Wal-Mart or other retail chains for future sales. It's mainly marketing its robots the way Japan's Secom does--as high-tech security guards. Richards said the company is already working with the Canadian government, several airports and an international defense contractor.

"Robots can roam the floor much more effectively than humans," Richards said. "They don't make cell phone calls, and they don't get sleepy. And you don't care if they get blown up."|Link|

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Word of the Day: wether

wether [Middle English]

1. (a) A male sheep, ram; a castrated ram; [also], an adult sheep; also, the flesh of a sheep or ram, mutton;

(b) a ram used as a sacrifice in religious ritual;

(c) the ram which bore the Golden Fleece...

2. [Astrology & Astronomy] The first sign of the zodiac, Aries...

3. [Military] A battering ram.

Condensed from the Middle English Dictionary.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Temper, temper

I had lunch at Louise's with Danger Bob and his friend Lou today. Bob's thinking of leaving the LAPD. He's been taking these accounting classes at UCLA and is friends with some rich people venture capitalists (VC). He's talking about moving to Texas based on a VC plan. I hope he knows what he's talking about. He's a bright guy, though, I'm sure he'll do fine.

Bob's from LA born and bred, but he's traveled quite a bit. And he's been to Texas. He used to spend every summer in Mexico and is fluent in Spanish. Very handy in Texas and California. I have many friends who live in Austin, Texas. I like Austin very much. Texas and California are interesting poles in the American political spectrum. It will be interesting to see what Bob thinks of Texas.

Bob was telling me about this traffic stop he made last week. The kid was driving a pretty new Lamborghini and was doing 60 in a 35. He was a hazard to others, but Bob wanted to get another look at the car as much as anything else. Bob manages to catch the guy before the highway on ramp. Bob steps up the driver's side and the first thing out of the guy's mouth was: "How long is this going to take? I have dinner reservations." Bob immediately got the kid out and put him in cuffs for belligerence. Bob tried to warn the kid not to turn it into a pissing contest, but the kid was way past upset at the point when Bob's back-up arrived. Bob ended up writing him four tickets that night including one for cocaine possession.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Neal the Zombie Killer

The best way to deal with zombies, in my humble opinion, is a 12 guage with double-ought buck. I shoot for the pelvis. If you can blow one or both of their legs off, you can dispatch them at your leisure witha good shovel. Axes work too if you can't lay hands on a shovel. But I prefer the reach that a shovel gives me.

The military's entrenching tool is a handy little weapon and tool. It combines the elements of an axe and shovel in a portable package. Although for zombie killing, I like a bit more reach generally.

Glock has a new entrenching tool design that comes with a portable saw too. That might come in handy for cutting off zombies' heads.

News from Manhappiness: Demory Update

Carolyn Demory visited us this weekend. She's up for the NEA conference and staying near LAX. Carolyn's on the Resolutions Committee. (Images from 2004 conference here.) We had dinner at a cute little Italian restuarant in Marina Del Ray. If you know the Demorys, here's an update. Carolyn is teaching gifted children now and she enjoys it (most days...). Milton is still working for the same company doing vaccine work. Sean and Rene are doing well. They live in KC MO now. Sean's working for the city government now but still keeping active with writing projects. Ian just finished his music degree. I hear he has dreadlocks, but I'm waiting for a photo. I'm not sure I can imagine it. I have Sean's email now, so if you want it, email me.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Help Wanted

evangelical christian?
old, white, and crazy?

please mail your resume to:
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Thanks to Spammy T for the link.