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RSS feeds of doctorate theses

In my subscriptions today I found a link to a Purdue University M.S. thesis. I'd like to see many more of these, because they're all interesting to someone.

One way to do this would be with an RSS subscription consisting of theses submitted to the public by those seeking advancement in education would be a wonderful reading list, especially in NetNewsWire; I can leave it subscribed for 9 months of the year while it's silent, set their feed to only let me check once every so often (supporting 304 Not Modified) — and now those in college find people listening, and discussing, things that they publish. It's so much more accessible than the usual publication route; blogging is cheaper, for each individual carryiing part of the burden, and in exchange we all hear each other's voices, and say our mind.

That's true intellectual freedom, in a way; with the advent of hosting services like TypePad, LiveJournal, AOL Journal and several smaller ones, combined with a safe public terminal, you can achieve true anonymity — something the Internet sees rarely these days. Find an ISP run by a friend, as most will happily anonymize your traffic logs to remove all trace of your passage.

Update: Thanks to #joiito for a link to theses.org, an online collection of theses from many sources.

Continue reading "RSS feeds of doctorate theses" »

Protecting kids from schools

As I traveled, I discovered a universal hunger, often unvoiced, to be free of managed debate. A desire to be given untainted information. Nobody seemed to have maps of where this thing had come from or why it acted as it did, but the ability to smell a rat was alive and well all over America.
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In a prologue to his book on the failure that is the American school system, John accidentally touches on a core point of blogging: untainted, unmapped, yet somehow critically important information flow is the key to communication.

His book, "The Underground History of American Education", is definitely worth reading, if you ever plan to allow a child near the public school system. Along with Paul Graham's paper, "Why Nerds are Unpopular", it may save your child from a thousand incomprehensible, incurable harms.

An unexpected discovery in this is a reference to an eerily-similar precursor of modern blogging:

Shortly afterwards a printer gave Edison some old type he was about to discard and the boy, successfully begging a corner for himself in the baggage car to set type, began printing a four-page newspaper the size of a handkerchief about the lives of the passengers on the train and the things that could be seen from its window.

Blogging used to be for money; these days, we're just restricted by payment schemes. I'd give a penny a day to Slashdot, and I bet 20,000 other people would do. That's a lot of pennies, and that's a lot more than zero.

Continue reading "Protecting kids from schools" »

Meme Termination

Right in the middle of Terminator 2 is a five minute scene where John realizes that he can train the Terminator's social instincts. It's hilarious. He spends about 60 seconds dumping a collection of social memes into the Terminator, who promptly follows the instructions and implements them properly. It's one of the more widely-spread examples of meme propogation in a popular movie I've seen — and if you stretch the analogy, it's like building an RPG character up in ZAngband. Charisma low, strength high.

A few scenes later, the mother is shown watching a family in the distance with momentary envy and sadness. I see in it the portrayal of the separation between those who must do something, and those who are at rest. It's interesting how this strikes me personally; I know that I'll never have a simple life, thanks to the choices I've made – and perhaps that's not a bad thing, in the end. Sometimes, though, I wish it were simpler. Dating, school, jobs; all those things would be within easy reach; apparently I've chosen paths that lead towards complexity.

O Librarian, My Librarian

The first round of library volunteer work training was quite fun; interesting people, good volunteer coordination, and I'll be shelf-reading the etiquette section. I took scattered notes from the whole thing, included within.

Continue reading "O Librarian, My Librarian" »

Infidels

If you are a disillusioned Republican, please drop me a line at editor AT moderaterepublican.net. Let's organize. Keep watching this space for more blogs.
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A few Republican dissidents are defecting to Dean, using blogs. This time around, everyone can have a voice, and we all have a lot to say about how things are. Perhaps now things will start to be different; there's only so much further down we can slide, as a nation. It's time for the party system to come back in line with the people's interests, instead of its own.

Voice training with Demosthenes

My blogging has been modeled after the essays from Ender's Game, one of the more influential books I've known. The character I always identified with was Valentine: changing the woirld one essay at a time, driven by a purpose. Now with blogging I have a chance to feel that control, to know that I'm having some (admittedly tiny) effect on the world.

With services like LiveJournal, TypePad, and AOL Journal, everyone can. For the cost of a few bucks a month, you gain the chance of syndication at places you've only read news at like Slashdot or the BBC. Someone might notice what you're saying out there in the world, and like it. A few stay and listen; the rest smile (or frown) and move on.

I'm working on things that will allow those without money to access blogging, to have some small influence in things. A voice is a big gift to give to someone who feels they don't have one. Progress is slow, but I expect it won't be too long; all the parts are on the workbench, at least. It all may yet work out — and then something cool will happen.

AOL Journal brings in the potential of millions of new voices, and how the existing communities react to this will be the sociological event of the year; whether it happens or not, the ripples have already begun.

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Peer-to-peer subpoenas

The RIAA's subpoenas are so prolific that the U.S. District Court in Washington, already suffering staff shortages, has been forced to reassign employees from elsewhere in the clerk's office to help process paperwork, said Angela Caesar-Mobley, the clerk's operations manager.
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In their efforts to scare people away from swapping music online, the RIAA has filed close to a thousand lawsuits, nearly shutting down the US District Court in Washington. I'm bothered that, to do this, they have to drain excessive resources from the government.

On the other hand, at least all that tax money is going to good use: trying to take money from citizens and give it back to the corporation that deserves it in the first place. After all, music swapping (which increased 10% in popularity after the RIAA announced their lawsuits) isn't just a form of social protest against draconian restrictions and pricing — it's illegal, too.

The RIAA has also, by filing these lawsuits, set themselves up for attack under frivolous suit laws; if the government can somehow be persuaded that the RIAA is using the legal system to harass individuals beyond what is necessary to enforce the laws, the RIAA could find themselves floundering where they're sitting happily today. One can dream.

I'd like to see scans of each of the 817 subpoenas show up on the file trading network; it'd be beautifully ironic.

Preventing social implosions

Many social groups implode when their community reaches a certain threshold of growth. If the population continue to grow unchecked, without certain adaptations made by the community, they may collapse under the load of the growth -- something no group should have to go through. I've addressed some ways that groups can take advantage of the Internet to help survive these ‘growing pains’ without imploding under the weight of their members.

The growth rate of a given group is somewhat hard to map out ahead of time; predicting the results of decisions not yet made by the group can be tricky, sometimes; as such, the exact time at which to apply these rules is unclear to anyone outside of the group itself. When implemented at the right time in the group, they do seem to function effectively as a curative influence.

A community cannot exist on its own, in a petri dish; select a crew (of one or more) for ambassadorial communications with other groups -- both in your area, and farther away. You can tap the ‘net to locate the contact information for groups with interests that verge on your group's, using popular categorical sites like DMOZ and Yahoo!. Even two or three loose, social ties to other communities can infuse people with an amazing energy to do more -- and two distinct groups are more likely to find a solution to their problems working together.

The ‘net can be used to contact interested individuals, as well; it's not limited to groups, which has worked out perfectly for Howard Dean's campaign fund so far. As communication is established between individuals within and without the group, a kind of “extended family” is born of the people that are, in whatever small way, in touch with your group's consciousness. This is where the internet can come into play; communications between individuals can be facilitated easily using person-to-person and person-to-group communication software such as announcements, discussion lists, and instant messenger. By increasing the flow rate of conversation, the members of a group can retain a ‘connection’ to those within the group, without losing touch of the primary goal: to be connected to people.

Often times, a group is noticed by a much larger group of people; the subsequent influx of many new members can force groups to the threshold of collapse, if they're not prepared to deal with the unexpected growth. When initially forming, many groups find it healthier (and more conducive to interactions) to avoid imposing a rigid (if any) structure on their process; decisions are made when they need to be made, problems are addressed as they arise, members share responsibilities and power as they see fit.

Unfortunately, a model lacking an official process doesn't seem to scale well beyond a certain population; at some point, the decisions become complex, the people emotionally involved, the (lack of) structure incapable of supporting the weight of the members. Introducing structure into such a situation, even if just in a limited fashion, makes an enormous difference to how well things are handled. The introduction of a lightweight tiered structure of leadership (president, vice, board, committee chairs) can drastically shift the efficiency of the group's decision-making process; responsibilities can be broken apart and delegated to small portions of the group, without requiring the group as a whole to address them. The task load can be distributed across the group, taking advantage more efficiently of the variance in the individual skill-sets.

These are only a few of the advantages that can be introduced into the group-forming process; applied at the proper stage of growth, these changes can greatly increase the chances of a group's survival, while making them more capable of approaching their chosen tasks effectively. They're not appropriate without change for every group, but they seem to work for most; the key is to apply them at the right time, when the need has just made itself apparent, when growth is affecting the group's overall efficiency. At that time, targeted application of these principles can save a group from self-destructing, unlocking a group's ability to grow without collapse -- and continue to be successful.

Continue reading "Preventing social implosions" »

Trust someone?

As the stranger drove off, I stood in the street, the postcard bending in my hand from the wind. I thought about posting the card, about how a simple act would transform a few square inches of ink and paper into a yea-long commitment to trust, and being trusted. How many small acts of trust do I commit to every day without thinking about it? How many promises, phone calls, emails, letters? What kind of network is formed by these pushes and pulls – how many knots, how many loose ends?
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At the last Dean meetup, everyone (at all meetups, in all cities) was asked to hand-write three letters to three "undecided" Iowa constituents, asking them to consider Dean as the candidate to vote for in the upcoming primary elections.

Discussions were heard about the room as we wrote the letters, at most tables, as people realized that they had to put a return address on the envelopes being sent to these strangers in Iowa. An invitation was included in the letters for the constituent to contact the letter writer for more information, in case they had questions or wanted to talk more.

For the next year or so, until the 2004 elections, I'm committed to respond to three people's questions and comments, if they choose to contact me. I've provided an open-ended option to three total strangers; now I wait.

Lawmobs

the police were the original smart mob, and they're locked into a self-referential, insular community. Jargon obsessed, weighed down with gadgets, stressed and with an over focused and limited range of action. Always responding, never given time to reflect, just moving.
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Distasteful as it may be, some of the roots of today's mob technology may indeed be in the police that many of us resent. This time around, though, there's not the same rigidity and structure in place to keep things under control — and this is resulting in something new.

I'd enjoy interviewing someone who's worked with police mob technology before, either as a user or a tech (or both). There's no harm in learning more about the zeroth wave, and it'd provide a rarely-heard perspective on smart mobs.

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