Smart Mobs #2 – community errands list

One of my favorite anecdotes in the book was about an errands marketplace.
A group of researchers in Eugene, Oregon experimented with a digital version of the community errands list; in which mobile devices negotiate about sharing tasks such as picking up dry cleaning, buying stamps at the post office, picking up a book at the library.
This is an academic research project, so it includes wearable computers using game-theory-based agent software to negotiate the exchange of tasks, using a system of points accounting for difficulty and distance.
The algorithm may be overkill; one can imagine a simpler, pub-sub, hackable version of this whereby people publish their errand list, and others can click off tasks. Perhaps with an Ebay-like reputation system and security levels if the group gets big enough. Might work for a block association or co-housing group or apartment building.

Smart Mobs #1

The Smart Mobs in Howard Rheingold’s book don’t seem so smart.
Swarms of people with mobile gizmos can mass to overthrow governments and on a smaller scale, co-ordinate dinner, or turnstile jumping, or soccer riots.
A Smart Mob can take down a government, but can it govern? The Seattle protesters were nimble, but their platforms weren’t that coherent (contrary opinions with pointers to cogent sources most welcome).
What processes for thinking and co-ordination are required to make decentralized action really smart, not just co-ordinated and impulsive?

The Two Towers

Saw the Two Towers yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot.

  • The split personality of Gollum/Smeagol (even more effective in the movie)
  • The fact that the movie series gives the female characters more character than the books do.
  • Eowyn ought to be senior at Rohan when her brother cousin dies, her brother is exiled, and her father uncle is incapacitated; the book takes the medieval inheritance rules for granted, the movie sympathizes
  • As in the book, the bonding among the male characters (Frodo/Sam, Legolas/Gimli) (In the book, the heterosexual relationships weren’t credible at all; they’re better in the movie)
  • The New Zealand landscape
  • The ents (though their part is cut in the movie)
  • Characters that get unbearably prissy in the book (Aragorn, Frodo) are more bearable in the movie.
  • The dead marshes (“or Frodo goes down with the dead ones and lights little candles”).
  • Creepy Nazgul (though creepier in the 1st movie).Given the good job with Gollum and the Nazgul, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with Shelob.
  • The various elf-props (in the event of a water-landing, your elf-cloak will serve as a floatation device)
  • The strange and pleasant sensation of remembering events from the book as they happen in the movie
  • Most important — the sense of being in another world (though the movie can’t recapture the feeling of being fourteen years old, with a boring and subjectively miserable life, transported into a rich and complicated alternate universe.)

Not as good:

  • The episodic pacing is tougher to make work in a movie (as in the book; cuts between moody Mordor-route scenes; complicated Helm’s deep battle scenes, Merry/Pippin sublot scenes.)
  • As in the book the dialog has its clunky moments. After the first few minutes, though, I got caught up in the story and didn’t notice so much.
  • Sauron/Mordor as Ultimate Evil. As in the book, not credible. The internal struggles of the flawed characters are much more interesting.

Political blogging

I didn’t plan for this weblog to have quite as much political content as it does.
My personal feelings about these issues come from the fact that my dad is a holocaust refugee. The holocaust was taught in school and I went through a phase of reading everything I could find on the subject when I was twelve and thirteen. I read about people whose world gradually slid from civilized life to dictatorship to utter horror.
At that time, one of the questions that I had about approaching adulthood was — if the place that I lived started sliding toward totalitarianism, would I be one of the people who spoke up, or would I be one of the people who kept silent until life became unbearable.
When the government rounds up immigrants on excuses of incorrect paperwork, and is able to detain them indefinitely without evidence or trial, that rings very loud warning bells for me. When the government proposes systems and institutions to rummage through our private information, sifting for random evidence of wrongdoing, instead of doing careful police work, following up on leads, and getting warrants, I start feeling uneasy and afraid.
I’ve had several conversations in the last week with people who prefer blog writing that is original, personal, and from the heart.
I’ve been blogging the various government outrages this past week not particularly because I have anything original to say about them, but because this is one small thing that I can do to help make people aware. Also because I feel like I have to speak out, and this is one small place to speak. And because the mainstream media has started picking up on the top blog stories, this is one vote to move a story up the Daypop index, where the reporters who cover the zeitgeist will keep the story in the news.

Destroying the net while trying to protect it

Ratcliffe says:

This is sheer idiocy, because it will actually increase the risks to the national information infrastructure. From its inception, the Net was conceived as a distributed system that could reorganize around failures (in the case of the original designs, the Net was built to route around damage caused by nuclear weapons). Centralizing all network communications to facilitate surveillance will create a huge, ripe and easily attacked target, reducing the reliability and performance of the Internet on the whole and for each individual user.

Municipal resistance to the PATRIOT Act

So far, 21 cities and towns have passed resolutions to bar city employees fromcollaborating with federal officials who may try to use unconstitutional powers in the PATRIOT act to investigate city residents.
Similar efforts are underway in another 26 municipalities.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is the headquarters for the campaign. Their website includes clear and detailed instructions and tools for promoting these resolutions in other towns.
Thanks to Jeff Bone for the tip.

NYT: Bush Administration to propose system for monitoring the internet.

John Markoff and John Schwartz write:

The Bush administration is planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users.

A government official, speaking anonymously to the Times reporters,

compared the system to Carnivore, the Internet wiretap system used by the F.B.I., saying: ‘Am I analogizing this to Carnivore? Absolutely. But in fact, it’s 10 times worse. Carnivore was working on much smaller feeds and could not scale. This is looking at the whole Internet.’

Does anyone in the government remember about search warrants?

Privacy, syndication, signage, and more…

Good stuff from David Nunez’ write-up on the Austin Blog meet-up. (I described one of the conversations and he caught most of the conversational meander).
Given David’s penchant for Robotics, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Meet-up sign keeps evolving. It has already evolved from a simple table tent, to a printed sign anchored by a water bottle and held high by a piece of tubing punched into the water bottle lid. David talks about adding an LCD screen, but why stop there? Add some Lego Mindstorms processing and some wheels, and we’d have a sign that could meet us at the door and get us drinks!

Austin-blogger meet-up

At the Austin weblogger meetup, Chris McConnell talked about disliking political bloggers who quote mainstream press articles and write pompous commentary. He is put off by their officious tone, repetition of spoonfed platitudes, and their wannabe air, as if they were interviewing for jobs at the New Republic
This led to a discussion about diagnostics for phony bloggers, whether using weblogs for self-promotion is effective or good, and whether it’s important for one’s politics to be original.
Chris talked about how he likes blogs where people talk from their own experience, and thinks of self-expression as a political act.
I agree that “the personal is political”– I also think that there are times when you want your opinion (however independently considered) to become mainstream. In which case it is good to agree publicly with others, and to help google-amplify stories that come from the mainstream press.
Prentiss Riddle doesn’t find that kind of blogging interesting, and is reluctant to dive into flam-ish blog-conversations with pompous zealot-types. I think that “interesting” is actually a really good filter — a problem with poseur sites is that they’re boring.
Chris didn’t think that the politico-bloggers had any chance of using blogging to break into mass media. I’m not so sure. Blogging by itself probably won’t break you into the big time. But blogging, linking, and commenting are decent ways to meet people. Once you’ve made the introduction, you can do the usual networking.
David Nunez is (from other conversations as well) in favor of using a weblog as a means to promote yourself. I am more ambivalent about this. I am very comfortable and happy with using a blog to meet people with common interests.
But I also know that self-promotion is a game; there is a set of predictable techniques you can use to accrue fame points that can be cashed in for money points or influence points. Write catchy articles. Speak at conferences. Meet people around whom you can meet other people. The game does require some genuine skills. If you’re a bad writer, a boring speaker, a nasty person, you won’t be good at the game. But there’s a playbook; if you follow the playbook, you’re likely to increase your fame points.
The key here, as Jerry Michalski likes to say, is intent. The set of techniques can be used sincerely, to meet people you would like to know, and to work with people you would like to working with. Or they can be used insincerely, to attract attention, to flatter the unwary, and to social climb above your inferiors to reach the “a-list.”
Guys, if I’ve mischaracterized your opinions, please let me know.