You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

The Longest Now

ETC and user-centered tools
Thursday September 29th 2005, 12:57 pm
Filed under: metrics

Everyone seems to think that developing tools around people’s daily
lives, on cleverly-designed platforms, is the Answer to lots of things
– the next iPod/computer/phone, new PCs for people in China’s urban
households, etc.

It doesn’t sound terribly innovative to me; am I just a stick in the
mud?  How can anyone get excited about a PC-like platform when
there’s some real innovation being done for $100 PCs that torally
rethinks many layers in the development and distribution of
computing?  Not that I think the $100 PC is the be-all or end-all
of what target consumers really need…  I’m foolish enough to
think that most things that end-users really need doesn’t get developed
at all.  A completely silly suggestion, I know.

Comments Off on ETC and user-centered tools

TR35: self-images and naming names
Wednesday September 28th 2005, 6:19 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire

Stewart Butterfield, asked about his role models, mentioned a few people who had inspired and guided him, including Wittgenstein, which philosophical bad boy was acrobatically allmost connected directly to Flickr
And to all you playboys and social barnacles out there : throwing fancy
dinner parties and making political connections will be the end of your
creativity and great ideas.  The audience was full of

And Tracey Ho, as understated as she is hot, admits that despite believing she would spend her live in civil service
in Singapore, and doing just that after college, she came back around
to academia and was lured back to MIT and now Caltech.  It was
good to see the civil service come up as an important life-choice
option among these young stars.

The ‘late show with our moderator’ format didn’t work perfectly, but it
brought out a lighter side of the TR35 members and helped make the
awards ceremony more than just a show.

Comments Off on TR35: self-images and naming names

A feisty talk about nuclear power
Wednesday September 28th 2005, 4:37 pm
Filed under: poetic justice

This afternoon’s panel on the resurgence of interest in Nuclear Power
got off to a quiet enough start; but climaxed in a few emotional
exchanges among its five panelists shortly before the end. 

An embarrassingly rough transcript (as usual, better
ones to come) is online.  A quick summary
: big power gorups are conflicted; both trying to support their existing
power investments and trying to pursue nuclear and other options
without taking on more risk than necessary.  Few energy activists
(or policy-makers in the right gov’t offices!) have the money or
authority to put their necks out, even when they feel they know the
right technical steps to make.

The big point that noone picked up was nuclear education :
how to educate the public about nuclear power; something which hasn’t
happened well.  This is also one place where Wikipedia-style
projects could help immensely… There wasn’t enough interest in the
panelist fesponses to tell how much if any they would care for such a

Blogging from the Emerging Tech conference @ MIT
Wednesday September 28th 2005, 2:48 pm
Filed under: metrics

I’m blogging from MIT’s Emerging Technology conference. Earlier today,
there were some great keynotes and a remarkable panel on innovation; a
full report on those to come. Up next: a panel on Nuclear-Power Comeback, featuring support from former opponent (and personal hero) Stewart Brand.

Blogging from the Emerging Tech conference @ MIT …

Comments Off on Blogging from the Emerging Tech conference @ MIT

Lexica and you
Tuesday September 27th 2005, 8:27 pm
Filed under: poetic justice

Presroi has a new section for notes on lexicons around the world : Category-lexika
He also recently gave a well-received talk to a group of European KM mavens… let me see if I can post a link to the presentation.

Lexica and you …

Comments Off on Lexica and you

Talking up
Saturday September 24th 2005, 4:33 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

It’s better than talking down to people.  Short uninformative
announcements that avoid the real issues may work as patches to
problems, but they avoid the heart of matters

Houston Mayor Bill White and County Judge Robert Eckels advise Houston
and Harris County residents that it is safest not to return home yet.
For those who remained in the city, it is safest to remain indoors.

Safest… hmmm.  Everyone should go visit John Conwell on Valerie Street in Bellaire to see a little well-conceived safety. (via Dan Feldstein)

Schools to open again next Wednesday – what a long vacation! – and airports to start reopening by Sunday.

Comments Off on Talking up

More from the startup school collective
Saturday September 24th 2005, 4:22 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

Startup school : Coming this October 15th to a Science Center near you.  Sign up early if you want to come in person!

More from the startup school collective …

Persimmon forecast : Rita locally a Category 0
Saturday September 24th 2005, 3:27 pm
Filed under: null

Our persimmons in Houston
are heavy, and fall off in the slightest gust of wind. Any serious
storm is enough to ruin the year’s crop. None fell off this morning; it
was just like a strong thunderstorm
Elsewhere : sporadic trees and branches were down elsewhere in the
city, with a localized gust of 70mph; one high-rise lost a few windows; 300,000
are without electricity.

too, was largely untouched.  East Texas had it worst; but Beaumont
escaped destruction.  No towns were flattened, or even mauled;
though some houses lost roofs and some buildings suffered heavy damage.

On the other hand, there was extensive highway gridlock,
with people on the roads for over 24 hours; some deaths from
heatstroke, many people running out of gas b/c of the stalled traffic
and leaving on their A/C in the 100-degree heat. I wonder if people used up the breakdown lanes…  Yesterday at
6pm, there were still people stranded on the road w/o gas, despite many
locals (in addition to official FEMA efforts) making sorties to bring gas and food to those poor souls.  Here is a typical evac experience from Dwight.

unofficial evacuation orders were too broad (‘everyone in the hundred
year flood plain!’), too thorough (‘everyone get out of the city’
rather than ‘everyone get to higher ground’), and too individualist
(‘everyone to his/her own car!’).

The standard evac orders were fine — here is the canonical Galveston/Houston evacuation map.
Note that even the “C” evacuation zones, for Category 4/5 hurricanes,
only come into Houston as far as the East 610 Loop (to which point the
ship channel extends).  However,

  • The orders were also amazingly persistent :  ‘ALTHOUGH
    times, even after the originally hoped-for acceleration didn’t happen.
  • Complementary orders were not given (if you are in the following safe zones, STAY OFF THE HIGHWAY)
  • “Evacuation” was not well-defined.  Do you have to drive 3
    hours out of the city?  Is it enough to get to places within city
    limits, where there is much more highway space?
  • Extra mandatory evacuation orders were made up on the fly. 
    Whoops!  The mayor has tried to write it off as a slip of the
    tongue, but many officials made it.   “If you live in a
    flood-prone area…” — Houston, Pearland, and others issued such
    warnings.  Since the 2001 flood affected many areas that had never
    flooded before, this worried many people who had nothing to fear from
    flooding thanks to Rita… the city had been parched for two weeks, and
    its bayous were empty.

When you tell people to stop trusting their own judgment and to
trust yours, you suddenly have an enormously greater responsibility to
care for them…

Comments Off on Persimmon forecast : Rita locally a Category 0

The self-bloglist
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 7:26 pm
Filed under: chain-gang

Comments Off on The self-bloglist

Incapacity in times of crisis
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 4:21 pm
Filed under: metrics

I am amazed by the number of people who think that a perfectly acceptable response to an emergency is disruptive, individual flight.  I can think of a number of positive responses to emergencies, but this is an entirely negative one. Roads jammed with uncoordinated traffic
and hotels overwhelmed in the absence of coordination; people
struggling alone to cope with traumatic decisions — what a gray joke.

A few positive alternatives:

  • Individually : stay and
    prepare when at all possible.  Start preparing at the first sign
    of possible trouble — at the neighborhood level — if you’re one of
    those people who thinks this is possible.  If you are trained for
    emergency response, make sure the local response offices know how to
    reach you.  The well-prepared New Orleans residents on high ground
    who insisted on staying long after the whole city was evacuated —
    there should be more such people, not fewer.  This requires education and preparation ahead of time; teaching citizens how to preserve themselves and their things through a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood, drought, heat wave, mud slide, or electrical/oil/water/food shortage
    Teaching citizens how to help their neighborhood in these events; what
    organizations to contact and how during the aftermath; how to identify
    and shelter affected survivors.  It would be worth a great deal
    for one family in each small neighborhood to be well and truly prepared
    to ride out a disaster.

    And this business of stores and people ‘running out’ of key supplies in
    the run-up to every disaster gets old fast.  In the first place,
    each neighborhood should maintain a decent supply of these
    staples.  In the second, if Wal*Mart can figure out how to alert
    their suppliers to up production every time there’s a sale, surely
    cities can find a way to alert the usual suspects every time there’s an
    impending disaster-alert.

  • Gathering together for shared action;
    by block, neighborhood, or district.  Thursday and Friday are days
    off?  Great.  Have a local neighborhood meeting Wednesday
    night to discuss plans and options.  Where are the nearby bunkers
    and reinforced buildings?  Where would there be food, water, and
    shade for a week-long holdout?  Where can people bring cars and
    belongings that need better protection from the elements than their own
    rooms afford?  Oh, you don’t have a way to contact everyone in the
    neighborhod on short notice… noone responsible for maintaining
    contact numbers for everyone and organizing such meetings?  Better get on that then.

  • Gathering together for shared flight.  Tell everyone to share vehicles; at least three to a car and six to a van.  Give direction,
    train citizens how to respond quickly and effectively.  Make
    contact with all neighbors; don’t bring more than two bags with you for
    safe-keeping — leave them with a protected depot, or secure them at
    home, depending on where you live.  Coordinate the use of large
    trucks, buses, and vans; reimburse owners for transporting
    people.  Promote central message-boards for ride-shares and shared
    floor-space in nearby cities.  Open nearby halls and other
    facilities for short-term emergency occupants.  Encourage people
    to stay as close-by as possible.  Expecting
    people to take refuge in hotels and find transport via rental cars and
    scheduled buslines in times of disaster is a disaster in itself.

  • Helpful city responses.  Recruit
    a few thousand short-term staff from the ranks of the trained
    citizens.  Don’t have enough of those whom you trust?  Start
    a national emergency reserve program asap.   Offer safe, guarded repositories
    for belongings.  Provide guards for such repositories, and for
    sensitive or priceless areas such as hospitals and museums and those
    reinforced hotels/halls being used as shelters.  Do not double-book these guards; this
    is a full-time job.  Are people starved for food or water? 
    Set up ration lines.  This is one of your primary duties while
    people remain in the area.  Are half-destroyed stores and
    pharmacies vulnerable to looting?  Gather key goods in an orderly
    fashion, to distribute or preserve them.  Are there armed people
    wandering the streets?  Give them something useful to do, a
    partner, and proper gear.  No spare gear for such
    situations?  Better get on that, then.
Comments Off on Incapacity in times of crisis

The Galveston Hurricane of 2005
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 3:08 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

In 1870, Indianola, Texas
was growing rapidly; a coastal town with 5,000 inhabitants.  Then
in 1975 it suffered the first of two massive storms, killing hundreds
and flattening the city.  It was rebuilt; but a second storm in
1886 caused residents to give it up altogether.  Today, thanks to
storm erosion, most of the original city is underwater.

In 1900, Galveston
had enjoyed even greater growth without disaster.  It had a
population of 42,000.  The city had worried about facing the same
fate as Indianola, but as decades passed without any serious storms at
all, some experts (including then-director of the Galveston Weather Bureau, Isaac Cline) suggested that hurricanes “could not” hit Galveston, for one reason or another.

That fall, an unnamed hurricane swept through town, killing around
8,000 people and flattening the city.  There were communication
problems back then… bridges and telegraph lines were cut, making it
hard to send messages to the mainland.  Once messengers did
arrive, they had a great deal of bureaucracy to negotiate, despite the
extraordinary damage.

The first message ran, “I have been deputized by the mayor and Citizen’s Committee of
Galveston to inform you that the city of Galveston is in ruins
.” The
messengers reported an estimated five hundred dead. This was considered
to be an exaggeration.

When rescuers arrived, they found thousands dead, instead. 
Funeral pyres were set up all around the city, and burned for

Since then, over the following century, the city has built up a 17-foot
high seawall, and raised the city some 4-5 meters with dredged
sand.  The seawall itself has become a tourist attraction, and
hotels and other tourist sites have been built along its length…
buildings along the main Galveston Strand are marked to indicate they
survived the hurricane.  So far, this has sufficed…

Losing to nature

“Nature will win if we decide that we can beat it.” –Bill Read, from the documentary  Isaac’s Storm

The pending storm produced by Hurricane Rita
boasts sea surges of over 30 feet (some have suggested 50), making the
seawall seem rather slender protection.  Galveston has built out
towards the water, not back away from it; and the whole city has fled
before the potential disaster. 

If history is any indicator, it will take another storm of similar size to change anyone’s habitation habits.  But perhaps architects and developers will learn to be more respectful to nature in laying out groundplans and designing seaside retreats.

The Galveston Hurricane of 2005 …

Comments Off on The Galveston Hurricane of 2005

GFDL places Rita directly over central Houston
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 1:37 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire

Hurricane Rita is apporaching the Gulf Coast, and will hit land somewhere between Texas’s Corpus Christi and New Orleans
Galveston, one of the country’s largest ports (New Orleans was the
largest), is the most vulnerable target, despite its protections
against normal storms.  Parts of Houston are also at risk, and the
early evacuation of Houston has lead to much of the clogging of roads
in southeast Texas.

The GFDL (an acronym for “Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory“),
is one of the key modern hurricane path-predicting models.  It is
a “limited-area baroclinic” model developed specifically for hurricane
prediction, including convective, radiative
and boundary layer parameterizations.  It makes special allowance
initializing the storm circulation.

GFDL is a ‘late‘ model, meaning that it is run with hard data, and not
with interpolations from earlier data… as of 10pm last night, the GFDL had Rita passing through central Houston and veering west once it comes level with Fort Worth.

UPDATE: Rita is veering East a bit, pushing it more directly towards Galveston and moving its water-heavy easterly side away from Houston.

GFDL places Rita directly over central Houston …

Comments Off on GFDL places Rita directly over central Houston

Houston evacuation begins
Wednesday September 21st 2005, 10:04 pm
Filed under: null

As of 6pm CST tonight, mandatory evacuations are in effect for “Zone A”
of Harris County.  Mandatory evacuations of Zones B and C will
follow as of 6am tomorrow. (notice)

Our house in Houston falls under the ‘suggested evacuation’ list, because it is in a low-lying area.

Rita is getting progressively stronger — currently
passing over a warm-water region that fed the last surge in Katrina’s
strength — and likely to exceed expectations of its strength.  See Jeff Master’s weather blog for more depressing coverage. 

And freenode is relocating, too; hopefully a temporary business.

Houston evacuation begins …

Finnish delight
Wednesday September 21st 2005, 6:28 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

From Deborah Elizabeth Finn, encyclopedic thoughts and a rec for a non-profit banner-ad generator.

Finnish delight …

Clusters of Knowledge
Friday September 16th 2005, 7:50 am
Filed under: chain-gang

Boston is host to the New England KM Cluster;
the next gathering is two weeks from now in Waltham.  The lineup
this time around is heavy with Berkman regulars, including both
Weinberger (as mentioned the other day) and Bill Ives

For those of you missing the good old days : Cesar Brea will be there too…  And .LRN, the prodigal child of OpenACS, always on the lookout for more pseudopods to grow, is represented there by Al Essa, covering “The Future of IT and Knowledge Networks“. 

See the full speaker list
online… not listed : yours truly, who will be causing trouble from
the safety of the audience.  Thanks to organizer John Maloney for
tipping me off to the event.  What I still want to know : where
are all the great KM systems of 1998?  Maybe I’ll find out…

Clusters of Knowledge …

Comments Off on Clusters of Knowledge

The responsibility of government for the public safety
Friday September 16th 2005, 4:54 am
Filed under: popular demand

“The responsibility of government for
the public safety is absolute, and requires no mandate.  It is in
fact the prime object for which governments come into existence.” — Churchill.

Timeless footage from last week: Keith Olbermann steps back from his normal perspective and delicately eviscerates federal leaders over their responses to Katrina.

And, crass but still almost as cathartic, here’s the ill will press on the subject. 

Comments Off on The responsibility of government for the public safety

Arlington Wiki
Thursday September 15th 2005, 11:41 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

Every city needs its own wiki; a single repository
for community information on its history, culture, landmarks and
ongoing events.  Arlington, for instance, needs its own
wiki.  The existing “Arlington Wiki” is dormant, part of a top-down Live from Arlington site.  On the other hand, the Arlington mailing list is active and the town is full of tech-savvy (and history-loving) people.

I brought up the idea tonight at the monthly meeting of a technical
advisory group.  I hope I didn’t offend anyone by suggesting that
a push-only website wasn’t the perfect model for an information
portal.  The “Citizen Needs” section of the seven-section Needs
Assessment the tech advisors carried out this past summer was voided,
rolled into the Town Website group… people decided that any citizen
needs would be covered by improved website design. 

Other citizen needs I can imagine :

  • the need for a place to post important citizen-to-citizen town announcements,
  • the need for a way to send public comments
    to the town (that others can see, add to, comment on) — this is being
    taken care of via the selection of a “customer response management:”
    tool (is that the acronym?),
  • the need for a collaborative, up-to-date city calendar
  • the need for better, more accessible archives of town data – property, legislative, judicial, executive
  • the need for public schedules and timelines
    for important ongoing tasks.  Example : the Arlington cemetery
    plots are expected to fill up in 10 years.  A number of
    representatives from the cemetery came to the Selectmen’s meeting on
    Monday to mention this, and point out that we should start thinking now
    about how to proceed in 5 years so we don’t run up against a real
    crunch.  This had apparently been brought up previosly, perhaps 5
    years ago, with no progress since… It is not enough
    to see a three-line summary of this request in the meeting minutes —
    there should be a timeline and suggestion-repository, updated whenever
    the relevant groups make progress towards the goal of finding a place
    to expand, which can be followed this year, next year, and for the
    coming decade… keeping track of each revision of any public documents
    and proposals involved.
  • the need for a good collaborative annotated map of the city — both at the present time and at key moments in history.  (For inspiration, see the Wikipedia project on geographical coordinates.)

Note that in each of these cases — as, indeed, in the case of the town
website itself — the services and information above could be provided
by third parties, asking for information independently and sharing it
with the world; not officially on government servers or part of a
government project.    But it makes a lot of sense for
the town government to directly provide,  facilitate, or cheerlead
such efforts, if for no other reason than that they are an important
part of a thriving community.  .

Arlington Wiki …

Bad Behavior has blocked 242 access attempts in the last 7 days.