Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why don't they flee?

Gary Wolf has a fascinating article in Wired magazine titled Reinventing 911. The article provides an insightful analysis of the failure of disaster response in this country despite the best of intentions and gobs of money being thrown at the problem.

During a large disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, warnings get hopelessly jumbled. The truth is that, for warnings to work, it's not enough for them to be delivered. They must also overcome that human tendency to pause; they must trigger a series of effective actions, mobilizing the informal networks that we depend on in a crisis. |Wired|

An innovative program in Portland, Oregon is taking a metadata scheme for disaster and crime information and making it open to the public to download and upload information.

As a disaster nerd and a library geek, I think the disaster and crime metadata protocol discussed is interesting and innovative, but the whole article is worth a read.

The Common Alerting Protocol, designed by Botterell in discussion with scores of other disaster experts. CAP gives precise definitions to concepts like proximity, urgency, and certainty. Using CAP, anyone who might respond to an emergency can choose to get warnings for their own neighborhood, for instance, or only the most urgent messages. Alerts can be received by machines, filtered, and passed along. The model is simple and elegant, and because warnings can be tagged with geographical coordinates, users can customize their cell phones, pagers, BlackBerries, or other devices to get only those relevant to their precise locale. The EDIS system proved itself in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, carrying more than 2,000 news releases and media advisories, and it has only grown more robust in the decade since. |Wired|

Monday, November 28, 2005

Blog confessions have real world consequences

It is simply amazing who may end up reading your blog.

When I wanted to come back to NYC, I was obviously stopped and interviewed by US Customs and Border Security people at the Buffalo border, like everyone else on the bus.

But when they realized I was going to the States to speak at a blog-related conference (ConvergeSouth) they googled my name right in front of me. Two of them, actually.

They carefully scanned the results and found this English blog. One of them, a very sharp guy in fact, started to read every single post on my blog. And it didn't take long until he shocked me: "So you live in New York, right? That's what you've written in your on blog."

I had no idea googling people at the border had become a possibility...

He was ecstatic. My blog made his day, or in this case, his night. He kept reading my posts and asking questions about a lot of them: Why did I go to Iran, what are my feelings about Bush administration, why I separated from my wife, what did think about Iranian politics, etc.

The guy was so in love with his job he wanted to get me into deep trouble so ultimately I could never go back to his lovely country, apparently. So he started to look for evidence that I'd also worked in the States and were paid by them. |Editor: Myself|
Seen on the Guardian Newsblog.

Pentagon pushes for bigger domestic spying role

Walter Pincus discusses legislative initiatives by the administration to give the Pentagon unprecedented access to surveillance information on U.S. citizens.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public....

The Silberman-Robb panel found that because the separate military services concentrated on investigations within their areas, "no entity views non-service-specific and department-wide investigations as its primary responsibility." A 2003 Defense Department directive kept CIFA from engaging in law enforcement activities such as "the investigation, apprehension, or detention of individuals suspected or convicted of criminal offenses against the laws of the United States."

The commission's proposal would change that, giving CIFA "new counterespionage and law enforcement authorities," covering treason, espionage, foreign or terrorist sabotage, and even economic espionage. That step, the panel said, could be taken by presidential order and Pentagon directive without congressional approval. |Washington Post|

Sunday, November 27, 2005

2300 miles later

We arrived in St. Paul last night, safe and sound. The car performed beautifully and the dog never even got carsick. We are feeling a bit haggard today but are recuperating. We made a pilgrimage to Ikea to buy some new home furnishings but were somewhat frustrated by items being out of stock. On balance, though, Ikea is a godsend.

The only real excitement of the trip was when I got pulled over for speeding, but the state trooper was very friendly and didn't even check me for warrants.

We did stop briefly in Wamego and Topeka to see our families. They are all doing well, but they have also been busy changing locations, so lots of new things to see.

Sarah's still adjusting to the new locale, but I'm so happy that I don't mind much of anything. I feel like I've been paroled from prison now that I no longer live in LA.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The long road home

I'm currently in LA packing the last few of my possessions into boxes. Fun stuff, I tell ya. But we are 95% done, so at this point it's mainly trying to decide whether to donate it or just toss it. The movers were supposed to be here Monday morning, but they called Friday to tell me they couldn't make it until Tuesday morning.

My landlord was pissed, but he's tempermental to begin with. It really just means we'll have less time to stop and see friends and family on our drive to St. Paul.

Hope you're having a better weekend.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trial by Frostbite

It was 20 degrees when I left the house this morning, but I've actually been wearing less clothing for my bike rides. Once I start biking I generate so much heat that a heavy coat is just too much.

As long as your face, hands, and feet are well insulated, you don't really need to wear much on your torso and legs.

I did take a spill on my bike before I'd made it 100 feet from my house. Just nature's way of reminding me that you cannot make wide, lazy turns on ice...not even with fat, knobby tires.

After that wake-up call, the rest of the trip was uneventful.

I met a first year law student (or 1L)the other day named Shelby who has been biking to work and school year-round in St. Paul and it was good to discuss the issues with him. He told me how several years ago the Twin Cities received around 8 inches of snow in a day and he was still able to bike. Actually, he was passing cars the whole time b/c they were unable to plow through all of that snow.

His heart rate was redlined and it took him 3 times as long to get home, but he made it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Please do not feed the deer

Did you know that it is a crime to feed deer in the City of St. Paul?

Sign the petition against torture

If you want to speak out against torture and ensure that you will get more spam from well-intentioned liberals, please sign the petition hosted by Congressman Charles Rangel of New York.

Torturer-in-Chief should get prison

90 Senators recently voted to re-affirm the ban in US law on the use of torture, which Bush is threatening to veto if it reaches his desk. And now it turns out that the CIA's own inspector general warned the administration that the use of torture was illegal last year.

The CIA's inspector general warned last year that interrogation procedures approved by the Bush administration could violate the UN convention against torture, it emerged yesterday.

The leaking of the inspector general's classified report represented an embarrassment for President George Bush, only a few days after he emphatically declared: "We do not torture." It also comes at a sensitive time when the vice-president, Dick Cheney, is lobbying to have the CIA exempted from legislation establishing stricter interrogation rules.

According to the New York Times, the 2004 report by the inspector general at the time, John Helgerson, expressed particular concern over an approved technique known as "waterboarding", which involves strapping a detainee to a board and submerging him until he believes he is drowning....

CIA officials made no comment on Mr Helgerson's report, but former CIA officials say most agents are unhappy about the blurred rules and doubt that harsh techniques are productive. "Americans do not join the CIA to commit torture," Jeffrey Smith, a former agency legal adviser, wrote in the Washington Post yesterday. |Guardian|
I hate to tell them that torture does not come under the category of "other duties as assigned". Torture is illegal. The Nuremburg trials established the precedent that just following orders is not a defense. Everyone who committed torture is a war criminal without a legal defense. We should punish them right after we impeach and imprison Bush and Cheney.

It is time for all people of conscience to demand the end of this illegal regime.
Nota Bene: I posted this as a comment over on The Bellman, but I felt the need to vent my political frustrations even more.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Polyamorous: the love that knows no bounds

I ran across this article in the Guardian and it reminds me of the renewable marriage-like multiparty contracts the Robert A. Heinlein used in his books like Friday.

What distinguishes the poly community from swingers is that we want to make multiple emotional bonds. Most people in the poly community won't have casual sex,' [Justen Bennett-MacCubbin, the founder of Polyamorous NYC] said....

To bored husbands or wives who might think being a poly means uncomplicated, carefree sex with multiple partners, Philippides has a stern warning. 'If you can't manage one relationship healthily, you are not going to be able to manage two. For polys, relationships are like a consuming hobby: they take up a tremendous amount of time,' she said.

Polys say that for many people, monogamy is unnatural. They point to spiralling divorce rates and widespread infidelity among monogamous couples. Polys, they say, are honest about the human condition. It is monogamists, they say, who live in a fantasy land.|Guardian|

But if they're so out of the closet, why is the first time I have heard of this in a British newspaper? Anyone else read about this elsewhere?

Of course, Wikipedia has an entry and Polyamorous NYC's website is here. And there's a FAQ from alt.polyamory if you want to learn more.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Biodiesel makes inroads as home heating oil

Gretchen Cuda reports in Wired that the biodiesel revolution is gaining a foothold as a home heating oil.

BioHeat has several advantages over conventional heating oil: The fuel burns cleaner and releases fewer harmful emissions, and it relies on domestic sources of renewable energy -- mostly soybeans. That means BioHeat is less harmful to the environment and reduces national dependence on foreign oil. Switching all heating-oil customers to 5-percent biodiesel could reduce oil consumption by more than 330 million gallons a year; changing to 100-percent biodiesel (B100) would decrease it by 6.7 billion gallons a year. |Wired|

Biodiesel is still more expensive than regular heating oil, but the price gap has narrowed due to the damage to oil production in the Gulf Coast.

For the do-it-yourselfers, this forum helps you convert your own furnace to biodiesel.

Moderate Republicans defer ANWR drilling

While the battle to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is far from over, the Refuge got a reprieve today as moderate Republicans refused to back Bush's plan to drill in the wildlife sanctuary.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Global Warming and Minnesota

Doing some research on the Minnesota legislature, I ran across a webpage by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discussing the impact of global warming on Minnesota. It suggests that Minnesota's climate will come to resemble that of Nebraska's current climate over the next century, but with potentially negative consequences for native Minnesota flora and fauna.

So it is true, Minnesota is getting warmer every year.

Old man winter and bicycling

Today when I biked to school the temperature was 29 degress according to my thermometer. According to weather.com, the temperature as I write this (several hours after my bike ride) is 38 degrees in St. Paul, but with wind chill it feels like 33 degrees.

I was perfectly comfortable while biking today...although I was wearing wool pants, wool socks, hiking boots, a fleece top under a winter coat, a face mask, and motorcycle helmet.

But it's supposed to snow next Tuesday! I'm new enough to Minnesota that I'm really looking forward to the snow. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Although I haven't tried biking in snow before, I'm told that some Minnesotans bike year round. I'll let you know how it goes.

My biggest problem while biking today was that my glasses kept fogging up. Bicycling magazine suggests smearing toothpaste on your glasses and then washing it off....but I haven't tested that out yet.

Does anyone have an anti-fogging remedy they want to suggest?

Captain of my own ship

Ok, it's not really a ship, but I am now the proud owner of 13 foot kayak! I just need to wait for Spring now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

French Riots Spread

Not only are the riots spreading throughout France, but sympathy or copycat crimes are popping up in Belgium and Germany.

Apparent copycat attacks spread outside France for the first time, with five cars torched outside Brussels' main train station, police in the Belgian capital said.

German police were investigating whether the overnight burning of five cars early Monday in Moabit, a Berlin neighborhood with a large Turkish immigrant population, was a copycat crime.

The mayhem started as an outburst of anger in suburban Paris housing projects and has fanned out nationwide among disaffected youths, mostly of Muslim or African origin, to become France's worst civil unrest in more than a decade.

``This spread, with a sort of shock wave spreading across the country, shows up in the number of towns affected,'' Gaudin said, noting that the violence appeared to be sliding away from its flash point in the Parisian suburbs and worsening elsewhere.

It was the first time police had been injured by weapons' fire and there were signs that rioters were deliberately seeking out clashes with police, officials said. |Guardian|

The Logic of Social Control

James Boyle has an op/ed piece in the Financial Times discussing why the powers that be would never have let the web develop if they'd had any idea what was possible with the Internet.

Why is the web amazing? Because of what people have built on it. Some might remember when the most exciting sites on the web had pictures of coffee pots in universities far away. (“See,” one would proudly say to a neophyte, “the pot is empty and we can see that from here! This changes everything!”) But now? When is the last time you looked in an encyclopedia? When is the last time that your curiosity – what is the collective noun for larks? Is Gerald Ford alive? Why is the sky blue? – remained unsatisfied for more than a moment? (An “exaltation”, yes and look it up for yourself.) Much of that information is provided by volunteers who delight in sharing their knowledge. Consider the range of culture, science and literature – from the Public Library of Science and Wikipedia, to Project Gutenberg and the National Map. The web does not bring us to the point where all can have access to, and can add to, the culture and knowledge of the world. We cannot ensure global literacy let alone global connectedness. But it brings us closer....

Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception.

What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. “Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.”

And of course it is. But it is also much, much more. The lawyers have learnt their lesson now. The regulation of technological development proceeds apace. When the next disruptive communications technology – the next worldwide web – is thought up, the lawyers and the logic of control will be much more evident. That is not a happy thought.

[James Boyle] is professor of law at Duke Law School, a co-founder of the Centre for the Study of the Public Domain and a board member of Creative Commons |Link| (emphasis added)

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Future of the Twin Cities

The Brookings Institute has some hard data on why the Twin Cities is one of the best places to live in the country, but also reveals the challenges facing the region in the future.

Thanks to Debby for the link.

Death of the Fourth Estate

There's an interesting video piece about the future of (mis)information dissemination here that predicts the death of media as we know it by 2014.

Thanks to John Mayer and the Teknoids listserv for the tip.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Riots in Paris

It looks like the zero tolerance policy adopted by the French government has backfired and Paris has been convulsed with riots.

[French Interior Minister] Sarkozy maintained his hardline stance, saying policing would be stepped up to ensure every resident of France's poor immigrant estates - where unemployment can be five times the national average - had "the security they have a right to". He said 17 companies of CRS riot police would be assigned permanently to difficult neighbourhoods, along with seven mobile police squads. Plainclothes agents will be sent on to some estates to "identify gang leaders, traffickers and big shots," he added, promising a "national plan" to deal with delinquency by the end of the year.

Opposition politicians, human rights groups and even some members of his own centre-right UMP party have accused Mr Sarkozy of being more interested in high-profile repression than long-term prevention. They are also upset at his use of words such as rabble, yobs and louts, which they say is likely to stoke tensions further. "This isn't how we resolve these problems," a former Socialist prime minister, Laurent Fabius, said on French radio. "We need to act at the same time on prevention, education, housing, jobs ... and not play the cowboy."

But Mr Sarkozy, citing statistics that show 30 police patrols are stoned and as many cars burned every night on France's low-income housing estates, is unrepentant. "There are some gangs and traffickers who are living off the underground economy, off drug trafficking, who seem to think these neighbourhoods are beyond the authorities' reach, " he said on television on Sunday. So far, France's voters seem to back him: he is by far the most popular politician and is seen as a leading presidential candidate in 2007. |Guardian|
It shall be interesting to see what the long term results of this crackdown are because the short term results aren't encouraging.

Sunny Minnesota

I've been enjoying the weather in Minnesota for the last few days. It's been unseasonably warm and I've been doing some biking around after work. I came all bundled up in fleece and wool when I arrived Sunday night and had to rapidly start shedding layers to avoid overheating. Minnesotans' reputation for friendliness is well-deserved in my experience, although they have crime here too.