Friday, September 29, 2006

Going under not a problem

Here is an image of what Australia might look like if the sea levels rose by 100m:

The image is from a series of artistic images created by Professor Stephen Young of Salem State College. It's a scary image, but is mild compared to the one shown in the SMH today.

Personally I find this the worst sort of scare-mongering. I happened to research global warming myself a few years ago, hoping to come up with some sort of sci-fi twist that would make for interesting reading. The bad news was that the most pessimistic predictions show a sea rise of a metre or two within the next century. Part of the problem is the paucity of accurate records, and the other problem is establishing dates for sea levels that have been 130m below current (in the last ice age) to perhaps 200m above present (for most of the 'last 100 million years'). I'm not sure I believe we have an accurate idea of this - but the images Professor Stephen Young is presenting is great propaganda material for global warming enthusiasts.

Fortunately the SMH does end with the good news:
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its last report predicted sea levels would rise by between nine centimetres and 88 centimetres by 2100.”

Huh, so no surfing at Broken Hill for the next century or so then.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Innovation more diffuse than we think

Scott Berkun is researching innnovation for a book. I've mentioned that before. He has come to an interesting point of view on Gutenberg's contribution to the innovation of the printing press:
“Like many myths of innovation I’ve discovered in researching the book, it was socially and politically convenient for Western society to consolidate the development of printing under the heroic image of a local sole inventor, rather than the more accurate truth of printings development by many people primarily from foreign cultures.

The Internet age is filled with similiar conveniences in assigning credit for things like the Internet, the web browser, and the PC.

Who do you think is overrated in their influence today? And why?”

My money's on Dave Winer being credited for RSS. The difference is that in the internet age people find out about the concentration of credit much earlier (it happens much faster) and some people are just ornery enough to want to make a fuss about it. For RSS, my point of view is that Dave helped create a great platform, but a lot of other people took it beyond his vision to something much more interesting.

Mechanics in space

Courtesy of famous scfi author Jerry Pournelle comes some helpful suggestions to NASA as it addresses the awesome task of finishing the ISS:
“It would be easier with better space suits. And perhaps with young mechanics rather than old PhD types?”
If we checkout the crew of STS-115, they're not wimpy "old PhD" types, however Jerry's point is not a foolish one. With Bigelow planning its own private space habitat by 2010, we can see the start of something interesting. But I wonder whether there will be a need for simple old human muscle + brain power in building in space? At first they will be mission specialists like these ones on STS-115, guys with multiple degrees and lots of ways of helping in space - but at some point we might just need cheap labour - people willing to put up with atrophying muscles, and other zero-G conditions in order to put some hard yakka in.

Revealing the myth of party factions

It turns out that Australian political party factions have become free from values, Daleks pursuing world domination for its own sake, at least that is an insider's opinion:
“Factions have become executive placement agencies, competitors or (more usually) joint venturers that case recruits for jobs in exchange for loyalty and the lure of parliamentary preferment. The people so placed become patrons themselves, in a cycle of values-free renewal. When a party is in power, all is hunky dory. Out of power it has nothing much to sustain it beyond the prospect of winning next time. Incumbency is everything.

The crisis of federal Labor is the crisis of the state Liberals, is the crisis of the British Conservatives. It is a crisis of belief and values. That is why the outright imbecilic gets spoken by men who know better: arrest 200 young people of Middle Eastern appearance without cause; make "Australian values" a part of a visa for entry. The outlandish is probable when your policy is based on guesswork, market research and a requirement for clearance only by those who are the inner group of the political class.

These factional Daleks of the senator's evocative description, the machine men who are values-free, will not offer counsel to restrain stupidity. Robert Ray has gone as far as an insider can to warn that the worst people in the menageries are in charge of the show. Kim Beazley has responded by defending those whom Ray named.

That response was as certain as the sun rising this morning: the continuing leadership of Kim Beazley depends utterly on the Daleks.”

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Refuse terror - choose life!

From Bruce Schneier's Crypto-Gram newsletter comes some good advice.
“I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets, or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want. ”
When terrorists can affect an election result, when they stop a holiday destination from attracting tourists, when we'd rather stay at home than travel abroard, when we look askance at people of "middle-eastern" descent ... then they have won a small victory. Let us remember, they are not soldiers, fighting for a specific state, they are terrorists, they cannot win our land - but they can batter our spirit, poison our hearts and spread the cancer of their evil philosophy.

Some commentators seem to acknowledge this, but want to not look at taking preventative measures - personally I think we need to walk the fine line between adapting to the new tactical security landscape, and refusing to be affected by terrorism. What does Bruce say?
“But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show's viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.”
We've certainly seen enough "security theatre" in the Australian political landscape. Personally I believe in the government's words a bit more than the opposition - if only because they are expected to back them up with action. I think that Prime Minister John Howard does an interesting job of portraying the image of a steadfast, unworried leader - yet he is accused of promoting fear and division within Australia. That might be politics warring with personality - but I find my own reaction is somewhat similar. I want to remain unmoved, yet I find myself questioning why certain issues were either ignored, or swept under the carpet in years gone by - decisions that seem now to be foolhardy.

Not forgetting Enterprise 2.0 ...

Whilst I've done a few political posts recently, and between the Pope and Lebanon there have been enough reasons to, I am still actually very interested in Web 2.0 and it's application to the corporate environment, identified as Enterprise 2.0 by people like Andrew McAfee. There has been a lot of discussion about the Wikipedia entry for that term (see here, here and here). Dion Hinchcliffe weighs in with his parable about Web 2.0, including pretty pictures:

But amongst the techies I know the discussion is more focused on the impact Web 2.0 has on their toolbox, than on some concrete new type of service or function. The term is in some ways a joke, and even technical people are falling behind when it comes to blogs, RSS and keeping on top of technology. The problem is that Web 2.0 as a concept speaks more clearly to entrepreneurs building new web-based businesses than to tech-heads in large corporations.

I've long said that Enterprise 2.0 adoption will be driven by the business users bringing their personal productivity tools into the enterprise - and I still think this is true - but at some point it must break into the awareness of business executives that there is a competitive advantage to be had, otherwise it ekes out an existence inside the firewall on the scraps that corporate IT allows it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Conspiracy theories go 'pop'!

The conspiro-nutters need a little deflating and Canadian Mark Steyn is happy to oblige.
“The sad reality is that never before has an enemy hidden in such plain sight. Osama bin Laden declared a jihad against America in 1998. Iran's nuclear president vows to wipe Israel off the map. A year before the tube bombings, radical Brit imam Omar Bakri announced that a group of London Islamists are "ready to launch a big operation" on British soil. "We don't make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents," he added, clarifying the ground rules. "Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value."

Our enemies hang their shingles on Main Street, and a University of Western Ontario professor puts it down to a carefully planned substitution of transponder codes.”
But on a more visceral level, it sounds like the movie United 93 will help make the point real to the average cynical Aussie punter. Seeing it on the movie screen, and hearign that it is based on the real events of that day, will make far greater impact than a bunch of academics standing up and declaring themselves id10ts.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Re-Design Complete

Well, the re-design of the blog into Blogger Beta is 99% complete. There are some minor tweaks still to go, but nothing functionally weird. There are some new features, namely the built-in tags (finally!), the RSS feed for comments and the much more functional archive browse feature. However, the graphical element was the most fun part of it. There are now three columns, some prettier colours and a nice logo.
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
Douglas Adams

Let me know if you come across any particularly egregious bugs ... or don't ... because if I don't know about them, I won't worry about them!

Two Kinds of Geniuses

Wired asks us What Kind of Genius Are You? David Galenson's answer gives all of us 'late bloomers' some hope of impending attacks of genius:
“What he has found is that genius – whether in art or architecture or even business – is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. “Conceptual innovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers. Galenson maintains that this duality – conceptualists are from Mars, experimentalists are from Venus – is the core of the creative process. And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, from painters and poets to economists.”
(emphasis mine)

I've talked about this a LOT recently with various friends and business associates. It doesn't seem far fetched as an idea, in fact it seems almost commonsense - yet I suspect that there is a subtlety to Galenson's idea that commonsense misses. The early geniuses are actually not that successful later in life - it is not just that their early success is what is most well-known. Galenson actually considered cold, hard cash value of their works.

Story via Jeff Putz.

V for Vendetta

Top of the head rating: 4/5

We watched the wonderful V for Vendetta last night. It was a great film, with enough going on to keep us rivetted to it, despite the Phantom of the Opera overtones of an masked hero living in the underground.

It was nice to see a film that treated it's audience as intelligent people, that did not over-explain, or at the other extreme oversalts with handwaved plot points or coincidences. There are, of course, some unexpected issues. V appears to be wealthy, but no reason is given for that (except perhaps theft), he is exceptionally gifted in combat (again no reason), and at the end seems to have some Matrix-like speed (a Wachowski brothers movie of course ...). V is entitled to be mysterious, because he is the center of the plot, the epitome of the mystery being unravelled. It seems fitting that as he says he does not believe in coincidence, he is surrounded by them. Also, we come into the story well at the end - you eventually realise that this is the culmination of over a decade's hard work.

The actors do a fine job within the weirdness of this future vision. Hugo Weaving's voice beautifully conveys emotion even when his face is unseen, and Natalie Portman is believable as a bystander pulled into the plot - although her British accent is atrocious in the first few scenes (I was sure she was meant to be playing a Yank stuck in Britain). The rest of the cast play their parts well, although only Stephen Rea is really stretched by his role. Roger Allam deserves special mention for his too-brief egotistical ravings as the "Voice of London". In fact the words of the screenplay are beautifully selected, and add the texture to the monochromatic fascist background of dystopian Britain. For example, this piece by V shows a nice self-mocking turn of phrase:
“VoilĂ ! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”
So is it perfect? Frankly no, it took a third of the movie for me to realise that "St Mary's" is the name of the disease central to the plot, and not just a location. Most of the characters seem a bit too cardboard cutout, and in a fascist state, men with guns rarely hesitate to shoot mobs of rebels - even if unarmed.

it is however well worth seeing, and whilst some people have identified modern American neo-conservatives with the Norsefire fascists in the film, I think that a more certain view is that government is intended to be for the people, and any government that forgets that is on the slippery slope to fascism.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Extreme Changes Ahead!

I will be changing my blog from the old standard blogger templates to the new beta layout this weekend. Expect to find some weird stuff appearing, disappearing and possibly bugs floating around. Along the way I will move from using my account to tag posts, to using the new labelling system. This will be the second blog I've extensively modified using the new beta layouts, so all should go well.

Citizen vs Tribesman

America's ABC has an interesting article on Why We Will Never See Democracy in the Middle East. Steven Pressfield says the key is the longstanding conflict between the mindset of 'citizen' and 'tribesman'.
“What exactly is the tribal mind-set? It derives from that most ancient of social organizations, whose virtues are obedience, fidelity, warrior pride, respect for ancestors, hostility to outsiders and willingness to lay down one's life for the cause/faith/group. The tribe's ideal leader is closer to Tony Soprano than to FDR and its social mores are more like those of Geronimo's Apaches than the city council of Scarsdale or Shepherd's Bush.”
He makes a particular point about how the citizen takes part in war, but the tribesman takes revenge:
“The tribesman does not operate by a body of civil law but by a code of honor. If he receives a wrong, he does not seek redress. He wants revenge. The taking of revenge is a virtue in tribal eyes, called badal in the Pathan code of nangwali. A man who does not take revenge is not a man. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the sectarian militias of Iraq are not in the war business, they are in the revenge business. The revenge-seeker cannot be negotiated with because his intent is bound up with honor. It is an absolute.”
If true, then that places the War on Terrorism not within the religious grounds of Christianity vs Islam, nor within the political arena of Democracy vs Theocracy, but on the more philosophical grounds of State vs Tribe - or from the terrorists' view, of personal revenge.

I think that there is clear example of citizens winning this war once before ... Australia's ABC aired an interesting documentary last night called Carthage: The Roman Holocaust that looked at how Carthage was copied, and eventually surpassed, by Rome. The point made was that Rome took the advanced culture, agriculture and trading routes of the Carthaginians and added an extra element - the cult of the Republic. Suddenly people who were once Roman enemies, came to see themselves as Roman citizens, and part of what their ancestors once fought. Historian Richard Miles points to the baths, the theatre and the temple as the tools Rome used to bind newly conquered peoples to the idea of citizenship.

Carthaginian Veterans

Is there a lesson in this for our conflict with the tribesmen of the Middle East, or closer to home, the Solomon Islands?

via Chaos Manor's RSS feed

Monday, September 04, 2006

Do Web 2.0 thingies increase sales?

“the web 2.0 thing you built me didn't actually increase sales...”

Care of Hugh.

Scoble's not sure that they do (yet). I'm pretty sure that it might be the latest fashion to have a Web 2.0 front-end (and good design), but it certainly does NOT guarantee sales.