Archive for January, 2009

Planting Cut Flowers

To plan for the future without having a sense of history is like trying to plant cut flowers.
— David McCullough

I’ve been thinking about cryptography in P2P systems. Projects like TOR and Freenet focus on using cryptography to protect anonymity.

The grounding principles is that this allows the dissemination of information while protecting the publisher’s identity. Using these systems, people can coordinate their activities in opposition to oppressive organizations, be they corporate, religious or governmental.

History suggests that the surest anathema to tyranny isn’t a well organized opposition, but instead public martyrs. Opposition creates sides, people pick a side and stop really thinking about the issue. Martyrs, however, shake things up. They make people look at their choices in a new light and reconsider them.

How many people do you think saw people putting out cigarettes on the arms and backs of black people during the sit-ins of the 60’s and thought, “That’s my side? This is what I stand for?”

Nonviolence is its most effective as a tool for political change when it is public enough that it has the opportunity to change minds.

I certainly respect the work of those who seek to protect anonymity. I think there’s a space to be filled though for technological solutions that allow very public verifiable discourse. After all, privacy is simply the ability to deceive effectively.

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Are We Making Choices?

I’ve been contemplating the man who developed pedophilia from a brain tumor.

Start out with 40-year-old school teacher, respected and liked within his community his whole life. Over a period of months he develops an attraction to adolescents. He gets kicked out of his house and charged with child molestation for making advances toward his step-daughter. He washes out of the court mandated Sexaholics Anonymous program because he keeps propositioning women. The night before he is due to go to prison he checks himself into the hospital complaining of a headache and a fear that he is going to rape his landlady.

Doctors discover an egg-sized tumor in the right lobe of his orbifrontal cortex. Once they remove it, his impulses subside, he completes SA and gets back with his wife. A year later he starts collecting pornography again and under the inspection of a new MRI, they find the tumor is returning. Once it is removed again he goes back to normal.

Definitely something to stop and consider for someone who thinks their brain serves them.

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Today we (knowingly) inaugurated our first black President.

Knowing this leaves me feeling good about the world.

Not that I think Obama fixes racism.

He’s one more milestone along a long road toward healing the moral atrocity that was slavery.

Though, I’ll admit a quiet hope that we are approaching a tipping point.

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I liked the inauguration today. I ended up watching it on Fox News in a bar, but at least I got to take a little time out of my day and enjoy, for the first time in a while, American ceremonial displays that I thought were backed with the real possibility of fulfilling the values that they theoretically stand for.

I’ve decided though, if I am ever elected king of America, I’m going to get a jester. Someone who stands outside the system and who comments through creative comedy on the life of my administration. I think it’d help keep me honest and liven things up from time to time. If you’re doing a particularly good job of it, leading the free world probably gets boring.

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Running Ragged

Sometimes I just feel mildly irritated about something and I just ramble for a bit to try to figure out what’s going on. This is a ramble.

I’ve been doing a bad job at maintaining anything resembling balance in my life as of late.

I blame my job. Realistically, I suppose I should blame myself since I’m the one in charge of balancing my life.

It really doesn’t feel like my brain is backing me 100% though. I’ll have it all worked out in my head that I’m supposed to go do my job and it just makes me feel tired, irritable and distracted.

I don’t think my natural disposition is to work more than 30 hours a week or so. I like to read and exercise and eat and play on the internet and watch movies and lots of other stuff.

I think I’m still hitting up on that existential sort of question: “when have I done enough?”

I am constantly brimming with ideas on how to change the world, but I can’t seem to escape from it.

God’s honest truth, I developed a bit of a messianic complex during high school.

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Doing Whatever I Want

I’m still contemplating Saint Augustine’s, “Dilige et quod vis fac.” (“If you are loving and diligent, you may do whatever you want.“)

Right now, I want to get high and go for a run. I have a whole bunch of work to do though, specifically work for my adviser. Right before the break, I spent a couple weeks digging into the code I inherited from work over the summer. I probably spent sixty hours or so starting to clean it up and get it ready to support the KSU IED search interface.

That’s all fine and good since I’ve agreed to do this interface as my job. The thing is, once I got back from break my adviser decided that she wasn’t happy with the a decision made in the summer on how to separate the KSU project and another project we’re working on with MIT. So, all my work is thrown out and I am expected to start again.

I don’t like doing this work. The system my adviser is trying to use for a framework across all the projects is a QT-based C++ library designed by one of my labmates. The system isn’t bad by any means, but it’s no marvel of systems design either. The structure and relationships of the components are not well documented, nor is the build process at all straighforward. My job is the computer science equivalent of filing — something requiring time and attention, but without any real challenge or creativeness. Definitely not the sort of work that I enjoy.

So the question is, “when, if I am loving, diligent and doing what I want, will I ever work on this project?”

My answer right now is that being loving and diligent necessarily entails being honest. The traditional wisdom is that sometimes you lie to someone to be loving to them, but I don’t know that is true. I said to my adviser and myself that I would have a certain amount of progress done before our meeting on Tuesday. Keeping my word, I assume, is going to motivate me eventually. I guess I’ll find out after my run. ☺

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A Cooking Cooperative

I went to an anarchist potluck this evening. Among the things we discussed were the problem with restaurants and trying to build communities.

Afterwards, Kristen and I went to see the Protomen and while shaking my booty, I came up with an idea to work on those two problems.

  1. Open a grocery store.
  2. Right next to it, open a restaurant.
  3. Create a website for collecting recipes.
  4. Create another a site where people state foods they would like to eat and days on which they are free to eat them.
  5. Through some sort of mediation and voting process, tables and dishes are chosen for restaurant reservations.
  6. The one or two people at a table who haven’t cooked for the longest time meet to cook.
  7. They get whatever groceries they need from the grocery store.
  8. They cook the food and eat the meal with the other people that grouped online.
  9. Preference reservations to favor locality and people that fulfill their obligations.

Let’s say the restaurant seats 60 people at 15 tables. That mean, what, 40-50 meals a night? That’d allow quite a bit of variety in meals and would mean for me the consumer that I get quite a bit of choice in what I eat each night.

It would take the community members in the area of the restaurant and regularly sit them down together for a meal. I like the idea of a church as a place where people come together for peaceable community building, and this might serve some of those functions in a secular way. Instead of getting to know the community in one big group as a congregation, you get to know them in depth four or five at a time over tasty food.

It would also encourage people to sit down and eat rather than sucking down dinner in front of the TV. TV is the spawn of the devil. Well, perhaps not that extreme, but least it’s second cousin. I think almost anything that shifts the boob tube to real person ratio in people’s lives is probably a good thing.

So far as resource allocation, many of the implements of cooking could be shared. The biggest thing would be the actual food. It comes straight from the grocery store, so it would be fresh. Items could be prorated depending on the quantity used if there were refrigerators available for storage. You could charge a minimum of 50% of store price for getting something from the store to incentivize using already opened things. If things were done properly, it seems like food waste could be reduced beyond even what happens in normal households where food goes bad all the time.

The mean reservations, and thereby your diet, is in a computer system. Eventually you could have algorithms that help people stick to diet plans that they are interested in or that makes dietary suggestions.

Another thing that this would do is let amateur chefs strut their stuff. Some people will be really good at cooking and there will be a demand to eat with them when they’re going to cook. Even a minor notoriety such as that seems like it would be entertaining for someone learning the art of food.

Maybe after I redo the world wide web, open a bar and a bank, I’ll have spare time and I’ll do a restaurant / grocery store. ☺

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Fighting Decrepitude

As I get into my 30s, the older people in my life are getting to be really old. My grandmothers are now in their 80s and my parents in their 60s. They’re starting to reach that age where things are starting to fire a bit less precisely than they did once upon a time.

My mom’s mom in particular seems to be getting to a point where her perceptions really can’t be trusted. I didn’t really understand the extent of things and postponed a visit by a day when I was at home. I was under a deadline and though it was a pain, I thought she could adapt.

Apparently the stress of it was a bit much and she ended up calling the police because she thought there were people in the attic of her house. When the sheriff came out couldn’t find anything, she was convinced they’d sneaked into the basement.

It seems almost comical except that she really believes it and is genuinely upset at the people sneaking around her house. She is reconstructing her world and understandings of her relationships with the people in her life to bring consistency to her worldview. So not only is she scared and upset, it is dividing her from the people who care for her because she is convinced they’re in on the conspiracy.

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We Have Too Much Life On Earth Anyhow

I’m a fan of making explanations that help people grasp large numbers, particularly those numbers that intimately affect our lives even though we are unaware. I wrote a while back about the l-curve. Today I happened across an informational video by Ben of Ben & Jerry’s:

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Why I Want A Socialist Economy

When I discuss different economic models with people the general complaint I hear about socialism is “nobody will do any work if they don’t have to.” That’s actually something I want. Our amazing capitalist system means that because there’s money to be made in computers lots of people want to work with computers regardless of whether they find them truly interesting or not.

I’ve been having an irritating time with what should be rock solid pieces of technology in the last couple days.

Two days ago I went to the ATM to get $500 to pay my rent. I punched in $500, the machine futzed around for about 30 seconds before crapping out with a “transaction could not be completed” error. That’s all fine and good since I’m pretty sure the machine only had $20s in it and that would have been a fat stack of cash, except that it debited my account the $500.

The machine knows, with absolute certainty that it didn’t give me the money. What kind of shitty programming does it take for the system to not properly handle this relatively simple error condition?

Then I find out that the Mauritanian Peace Corps Invitees Google group has just disappeared from cyberspace. I received no notification that anything was being done to it. As best I can tell, no system exists for determining where the hell it went.

I was a manager of the group. I should have been notified when the group ceased to exist, whatever the reason. The whole point of the damned thing was that the same questions are asked every year and the archives allowed people to get their answers without endless repetition.

Part of my motivations for trying to create systems that guarantee everyone’s basic needs are met are humanitarian, but at least as much as that it is the simple observation that people who are not passionate about their work tend to do at best a mediocre job. Nothing will suck the passion out of an activity like forcing someone to do it.

I just want everything to work as well as it has the potential to and we are definitely not there yet.

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