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Viewpoint Routers

One trend in intelligence gathering and analysis is 'open source' - and we're not talking Linux and GPL here. Simply put, as electronic media have proliferated around the world, more information that is useful for security purposes becomes openly available. The problem is digging out the useful bits, assessing their reliability, synthesizing and analyzing the bits together, then using the results to guide clandestine information gathering if needed.

Open source in this sense seems to have started inside the intelligence agencies, but you don't need a government ID card to play the game. For instance, the NOSI site is essentially a blog that compiles military intelligence with a naval skew into one convenient location. One might also consider Rantburg, run by an ex-intel guy, to be an open source site, with a bit of an attitude.

An alternative definition of the word "open source" appears here, as intelligence agencies begin to base more and more of their information sources on that which is available to the public — "open" knowledge, as it were. I must admit some curiosity as to how long the intel community has been using the term, but that answer is probably classified.

This concept of "open source" intelligence leads to an insight into blogging, and why it has grown so as a social phenomenon. Intelligence has, for many years, taken advantage of the human instinct for gossip; by collecting information that seems unremarkable at the time, collecting it together, and through massive human and computer effort turning the mass of information into coherent, organized data.

In David Brin's book "Earth" (spoiler warning! this gives away a key aspect of the plot), one of the key protagonists is a person working from home, observing and collecting information through a high-speed internet connection. As the book progresses, we learn that she wields a power stronger than any other single individual in the book; eventually, however, she is defeated by cooperation (and coincidence).

Like the protagonist in "Earth", the blogging community wields a great amount of power, mostly untapped. The events surrounding Trent Lott's dismissal from the government for holding a viewpoint unacceptable to the community demonstrate the power of the group to turn what was formerly described as "gossip" into immediate, highly effective influence over a regime. Unlike the book, however, we do not act alone.

Bloggers have, in a short period of time, begun developing the ability to take the same information that intelligence agencies; each individual collects the data they feel relevant, assembling it into a conclusion (or summary, or post) that is then shared with all who care to read it. Each of the thousand voices, using different information, reach different conclusions; sometimes in agreement, more often not, but in the end all are given a chance to share their view. Unlike before, however, bloggers have the Internet at their disposal.

The NSA has recognized the power of the Internet as a tool for distributing information; influenced by Gore, they developed at the turn of the century a private network that rivals the mass media in sharing information to anyone with access. Around the same time, online journals began changing their focus; many began discussing viewpoints along with the trivia of their day-to-day lives (the root of the thing we call "blogging" today); today, the propagation of information through the blogosphere has begun to rivel the AP wire, and may be approaching equivalence with the NSA's billion-dollar system.

We link to each other almost unconsciously, creating a community of a form that no one has seen before. The onus is upon each of us to make our voice heard; once that has been done, entry to the community is almost certain, with a minimum of barriers (be civil, be interesting, be unique). Within the community, information flows at a rate faster than any one human can discern; with a thousand of them looking, though, suddenly it's not so unmanageable. When I miss an article at New Scientist discussing the origins of pulsars, it turns up in the blog elsewhere in the community; in turn, I link to that article at my blog, thus ensuring that someone, somewhere, will see the information that they otherwise would miss.

Like ants (carpenter ants!), we're crawling the information space in its totality — even though each ant only sees a tiny portion of all that is out there. Unlike the government, however, we don't have to pay ten thousand people to do our work for us; each of us puts out a few hours a month (or, perhaps, a day), and perhaps a few dollars for connectivity, hosting, etc. In return, we're granted a skill that was formerly limited to corporations, governments, and (rarely) activists; efficient information routing. With this skill comes great power; if we use it responsibly, the world will change in ways that sci-fi writers have only dreamed of.

Continue reading "Viewpoint Routers" »

Less talk, more action.

I've started a second blog, to pair with this one. It's called link lagoon; you can read the introductory post there as well, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

The new blog is where I'll be posting things that are mostly content from elsewhere; occasionally, I'll add a line or two to the mix, but the content is highlighted from elsewhere. I've far too many posts rotting away in my news reader that deserve the attention of others — but aren't necessarily topical or relevant to this blog.

Trademarking integrity

Trademarks are powerful because they visually and clearly identify the companies who own them and their products. When a trademark is used to control the ability of a critic to clearly identify the target of her criticism, trademark is being perverted and is being used to undermine democratic discourse.

Dead on. Using intellectual property laws to stifle consumers violates a basic consumer right: the right to publish an opinion about their purchase.

I see no reason why consumers discussing corporations should be restricted from referencing them using one of the most prominent public features a corporation can publish, the logo.

People on eBay have the right to provide negative feedback, associated with the public aspect of my identity; Consumer Reports has existed for years with the sole purpose of providing consumers with positive and negative feedback about products, with great success. Why should it be any different when providing feedback about corporations?

Are organizations exempt from the social and legal rules that apply to individuals? Nike recently argued for the right to mislead consumers, en masse; many, many corporations consciously lied about their earnings in the past few years (as emphasized by Enron); representatives commonly make promises during elections, then ignore them at will.

Individuals can get $10,000 and 10 years in jail for lying, intentionally or not, on certain government paperwork.

Where's the constraints for organizations? Consumers appear to no longer exert pressure on corporations for honesty, integrity, etc. Without that pressure, things have begun to turn sour. The recent war, in violation of U.N. regulations, was supported en masse by the public — and with the support of the public, how can one resist?

Until the populace begins to exert an influence requiring honesty, organizations will continue degenerating; as organizations degrade further and further each year (our government, by now, no exception), our populace in general gains more disillusionment and more apathy.

Without a strong consumer influence for integrity, many major organizations have begun degrading into something worse. This can only be stopped with participation, common interest groups, and the will of a thousand thousand concerned people.

Straining pollution from the air

Recently Volvo began installing on some of its cars an air filter behind the front intake grill that cleans the air of more pollution than the vehicle itself emits. They've begun to sell models with this feature built-in; a fleet of mobile air cleaners will descend upon the world, cleaning it of smog -- in theory.

Installing these filters on each vehicle in the city bus fleet seems a logical step forward from this; my rusty grasp of airflow says 5280 cubic feet an hour of air is about 140 cubic feet per second -- presuming the air intake is a foot square. Given six hours averaging 5 miles an hour, the bus will sweep 15,840 cubic miles of air.

Data on the density of air particulates would be a valuable proof to this experiment; sampling the air repeatedly over a number of weeks before and after the filters are installed provides a way to show the decreasing air pollution at high-traffic areas such as the downtown bus station or the Franklin corridor.

One result of the experiments would be a partial map of the pollution index at a much finer granularity than is easily available; arguing that a bus station's air is cleaner due to the lack of cars and trucks might benefit public transportation and ecological concerns.

Neighborhoods with especially high levels of pollutants would be identified, with a solution available to the residents: installing a cleaning filter in their air conditioner would improve, slowly, the quality of the air they breathe each night.

Wandering party lines

People in public presume the right to converse with other members of the public at will. Walking in a park, talking with someone else, you generally have the right to do so. You can do this on a subway, too; it's quite common, no one's bothered at all.

There's one problem, though, with the cell phone interaction: the headset's speaker is too quiet. It's made for one person's ear, but in real life we all get to hear what's being said. It makes the usual interaction social (for some, one of the reasons they're on the train in the first place) where with a cell phone conversation it's impossible to hear the other person. That can grate on the nerves, and requires the use of predictive hearing and creative games of fill-in-the-blank.

One difference remains, though. With public social interactions comes the ability for someone who's not in the conversation to enter it. That's how many people meet, after all, and it's often a friendly thing to do. With a cell phone conversation, it's rare to hear the public comment on what's going on. With their voices unconsciously silenced, resentment grows and people begin to shift and glare (I'm from Oregon, this could differ in other localities).

I feel that the resentment could be alleviated if cell phones users understood more clearly that they are indeed in a public conversation — that a cell phone does not introduce an invisible barrier of privacy. Their conversation is not stopped by that barrier, and I don't wish my public excursions to be intruded on by bubbles of resented, unwillingly granted privacy.

Building a profitable education

Many students fit badly into the current school system. With many feeling as though it's just "a waste of time", resentment is growing in each successive generation of youth towards their education. The educational problems are only one part of this, too; with social resentment growing between the ostracized and the social elite, schools are turning into emotional (and, unfortunately, physical) zones of class warfare. I'll address both problems simultaneously, by proposing a radical departure from the current curriculum.

I'd like to see a school built where the student's grade (and graduation) depends entirely on the profit -- while they get credit for the classes, to graduate they must form a business and succeed. It puts an entirely new spin on "getting a degree", as now they have the added credential of creating a successful business. That's worth far more than their weight in gold, and makes for a useful depth of education in business.

Ideally, the school would be run for-profit (a business role model for doing things in an open, proper manner). By selling a share of stock for a credit in any given term, it could provide people access to a real-life college business education, while giving students the power of a shareholder's influence over a company. The twist, though, is that the student must own the share of stock: students must be shareholders. Introduce profit sharing, and now it's to each student's benefit to succeed. With the proper structure, competition could be allowed to run rampant (pure capitalism); as well, competition could be downplayed, for the benefit of the community (cooperative capitalism).

I feel that such a drastic change in the educational process would be of great benefit to students who feel that the current system is unable to help them achieve their goals. By providing a real-life, internship-like education in the realities of cooperation and competition in business, the students could acquire a set of skills comparable with those taught in secondary business schools – while developing confidence in their social interactions and resume experience for advancing their real-world careers.

Continue reading "Building a profitable education" »

Revelations (of courses)

While working with the school today, I discovered something incredibly useful for understanding college class numbering.

The first of the three digits (the hundreds bit) is the "year". 100 and 200 are 1st year and 2nd year, and so on up to 800 and 900 (at worst). You need to take some credits in the first two years (1 and 2), some credits in the next two (3 and 4), some credits in the remaining (5 through 9).

That's a short, handy explanation for the college degree system that makes it a lot easier to understand what's going on with the system. The person I spoke with yesterday had a gift for analogies, and I thank her profusely for this explanation. I seem to have found a path to becoming a librarian.

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