Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

Canada’s Rail System May Have Peaked…in 1968 – Technology – The Atlantic Cities

Canada’s Rail System May Have Peaked…in 1968 – Technology – The Atlantic Cities.

Max speed 170 MPH. 

Acela (today): 150 but reality 80 MPH.

Via rail, the rickety rail that strings the big cities on the east together, less than 100 MPH.

Why? Read. It’s a nothing new but it’s always an bitter pill–that hope has been, for the moment, stalled. Not dashed.

Samuel L Jackson in Obama campaign ad – video | World news | guardian.co.uk

Samuel L Jackson in Obama campaign ad – video | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Fun, but not as much as I was hoping. But the point is well taken

Okay, best book review/interview of the last couple of weeks has got to be the 17 Sept. Slate Lexicon Valley interview, by the great Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo of Geoffrey Nunberg’s latest, The Ascent of the A-word”.

Confession: I’ve become a regular listener (during rowing) of Slate’s Daily podcasts. The moderators are good, though I can’t quite put Emily Bazelon’s squeaky voice into the fiercely intelligent frame of her writing.

 

Find Open Source Alternatives to commercial software | Open Source Alternative – osalt.com

Find Open Source Alternatives to commercial software | Open Source Alternative – osalt.com.

Since the beginning of time, we, all of us, have wanted a site listing fairly, impartially, accurately, and disinterestedly open source options–alternatives or not. (Personally, I’m tired of the “alternative” tag and really, but really, want to see open source strut its stuff with new things.)

Without comment, and certainly without prejudice or sarcasm, here’s Osalt. It probably is not the DMOZ of the present or the fantasy we, every single one of us wants… (get it? I’m joking: I cannot speak for myself let alone anyone else, above all for all).

But the point is: If you have better, tell me.

Or, better yet: do it.

Or, best yet, let’s start something really new… (and I mean I suppose a new blog post.)

Meanwhile, what I’d really like to see: good open source alternatives to Expensify, Pivotal Tracker and the like. Tools that SMBs use.

Section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

Canada’s political culture and history is interesting and strikingly so to me, who went to college and graduate school in the US and who lived in countries where national “independence” means something visceral and motivating–Spain, Australia, Mexico, the US. Canada did not have a bloody war of independence and gain its autonomy on the battlefield. It got it peaceably, in 1867, as a kind of pragmatic solution to economic and governance problems.

The Proclamation of Canadian Confederation by Queen Victoria on 29 March 1867 “gave royal assent to the British North America Act” :

“We do ordain, declare, and command that on and after theFirst day of July, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-seven, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, shall form and be One Dominion, under the name of Canada.” (Wikipedia)

July First is celebrated here in Canada as Canada Day. But it’s not the same as “Independence Day” (movie or day). It’s about autonomy, a condition of national control that was probably not realized until the 1930s. 

More interestingly, the Canadian national political character continues to be remarkably concerned with autonomy, and if we agree with Wikipedia, it is one of the most federated modern nations, meaning that the provinces take self-government very seriously. (The example of Québec comes to mind.) 

Hence, Section 33, which assuaged concerns that provincial elected legislatures would, under the new Charter (1982) replacing the original Canadian Bill of Rights, lose power to appointed court justices

According to trusted friend Wikipedia, Section 33 is fairly unique, though there are instances in sub-national governments where something like it exist.

It’s a fascinating provision. It’s also brilliant. As a friend pointed out, imagine if the US had such a provision and that it was called into play in the presidential election of 2000, when the Supreme Court of the US ruled for Bush.

Or imagine of that now much more conservative court were to rule against this or that favourite American personal privilege: with a clause like Section 33 providing for legislative overturning…..? Of course, I’m kind of progressive in my politics–I like justice, peace, equality, community–so I cut my own pattern; but the pattern can make an obverse coat, too. 

 

Loopers

Looper (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In Looper, the younger must kill the older from the future to prevent science fiction hell, a loop.

In Charles Yu’s “How to live safely in a science fictional universe,” a novel whose charm clothes an abyss of poignancy that’s so much more about his father and the legacy Charles lives out, through, and all over again, the protagonist (the author’s alter ego) must kill his future self to prevent science fiction hell, a loop.

The loop ensues, anyway.

So, a fast search showed no recognition of prior art. Yu’s novel is wonderful. It is almost too much so but it lightens its touch with a knowing absurdity. Lev Grossman in his review (helpfully provided by Amazon.com), nods to Calvino and Lem. But that’s a little misleading, as Grossman also recognizes the actual originality of Yu.

I should hope that Looper the film, which promises to be the best thing shown on a longhaul plane trip, will choose to recognize the more engaging art and adventure Yu’s novel gives so generously.

BTW my favourite looper science fiction (it’s a not-insignificant genre) is actually from Delany, but then nearly all of his work relates to the narratives of identity passed down to us that end up being our own, like it or not.

Share your thoughts!

As part of regular due diligence I routinely check out the various cloud storage services offered to SMBs, my primary clients. (I consult on community strategy and management.) Backblaze was appealing but not really for me: perhaps for a less thrifty company. Nevertheless, I signed up for the free trial and then did  the usual, forgot about it. 

Today, I opened an unintentionally funny reminder from them. Subject line:

Your data will be deleted!…share your thoughts!

People, be real.

Your “data will be deleted” is, like, bad. 

“Share your thoughts,” is usually thought of as, well, good. I share my thoughts because I feel good about the world and me.

So. What would Backblaze want me to share, then? I mean, about my data being deleted.

Besides this.

I offer to the the sole reader who’s reading this the opportunity to join in a contest. 

Rules: Your data–your Web presence, you in electrons–are going to be deleted.

So, Share Your Thoughts! with Backblaze. Do it for the sake of humanity. 

Business Proposal: Rent your E Car–and manufacture it here

The business plan is simpler than its implementation. 

* Background. Electric cars are too expensive for most non-Romney’s to afford. 

* Electric cars need charging stations just the way that gasoline and diesel vehicles do. Putting such a network of stations into play is probably an easier problem to solve than it was for gas/petrol stations simply because the latter already exist (as do powerlines and railways and other interregional conduits).

* The technology is changing fast (but not fast enough) yet remains stuck at the point just before economies of (vast) scale would make a signal difference in price. 

* Ancillary issues, such as the disposal of vast quantities of lead-acid batteries, or even Lithium-based ones, seem to me to be unexamined or unsolved. 

 

Proposal:

Large scale rentals for electric cars and other vehicles. These would be rented to subscribers on the model of Zip, Auto Share and the like. The fleet of rental e-cars would necessarily be large and accommodate the present and near-future wants of urban populations of a certain density, at least at first. 

Cost for rental would likely have to be higher than existing subcompact or compact rentals but there could be inducements. For instance, governments in many regions offer rebates for e-vehicles and other technologies that supposedly help the world meet carbon goals.

* Most rental vehicles don’t last long. They are brutally treated. I do not believe that is so with the car-sharing model, however. And in this case, a goal would be to inspire loyalty and the consideration of others by encouraging respectful treatment of the car. That said, turnover wil still be high, especially as the drive technology will be improving. But as the new cars are put into service, their cost will likely be going down, not only as the economy of scale’s effect is more clearly felt but also as the corollary of better technologies become available. 

There might also be the added good feature of shifting regional factories to the production of these kinds of vehicles. This has been tried before, as when the City of Berkeley, under Gus Newport (I think), back in the 80s tried to invest in and build a factory making electric vehicles. Too early.

* Locations: As mentioned, urban densities but I’d like to start with those here in Canada, such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and others. Cold weather might be an issue for batteries, but I’d like to think that by now that issue has been solved well enough, if only by using good insulation. (Which, along with hot chocolate, works for me.)

This is a serious proposal. I don’t think we are going to have a revolution in batteries nor a sudden drop in pricing for e-vehicles, at least not short of a commitment that will produce economies of scale. But with the low and lowering price of natural gas, that seems less and less likely. Yet natural gas’s extraction via fracking is anything but desired. So, there are limits to it–social and political ones.

There are limits too to the making of e-vehicles, such as the source of the power to drive them (some powerplant), the recycling or rubbishing of the used or broken batteries, among others.

But my vision is not myopic and focused on next quarter. I look to years. But we have to start now with establishing the infrastructure to get there–and that includes the political as well as entrepreneurial logistics.

As I wrote, this is a serious proposal. The primary cost would be in working with at least one e-car maker and setting up the charging stations. From the business development side, arranging the subscriber model and all its qualities would be needed too…. but none of this, really, is actually new or venturing into uncharted territory. It’s been done, albeit for internal combustion vehicles. 

As well, there is–yes indeed–there is government support in many polities precisely for this sort of thing: entrepreneurs and technology that go green in a big way and that further build the manufacturing capability of the nation. 

No, You Won’t See Me on Facebook, Google Plus, nor Skype – Bradley M. Kuhn ( Brad ) ( bkuhn )

No, You Won’t See Me on Facebook, Google Plus, nor Skype – Bradley M. Kuhn

Brad’s post raises some important points and these are not the same raised by, say, Steve Coll when he wrote on why he was leaving “Facebookistan.” His argument focuses on privacy and the user’s (un)willing engagement or emplacement in the market:

“Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information.”

And Coll is right. Since FB’s plunge in stock valuation, the emphasis has been on finding a more efficient way to sell things to those who access FB using their mobile devices. The emphasis, in short, is not on making FB a better social environment but a better commercial mall. (In America, one can snarkily ask, What’s the difference? The mall is the social space par excellence and long ago replaced the bowling alley, the soda fountain, the whatever of years, generations, past. Shopping, in America, gives if not purpose to the life needing it then at least reason for its movement.)

But Brad’s point touches more on the obligation of free software. It’s an important post, and his point not considered enough, even by those whose life is all about Foss and the communities sustaining it:

When I point out that I use only Free Software, some respond that Skype, Facebook, and Google Plus are convenient and do things that can’t be done easily with Free Software currently. I don’t argue that point. It’s easy to resist Microsoft Windows, or Internet Explorer, or any other proprietary software that is substandard and works poorly. But proprietary software developers aren’t necessarily stupid, nor untalented. In fact, proprietary software developers are highly paid to write easy-to-use, beautiful and enticing software (cross-reference Apple, BTW). The challenge the software freedom community faces is not merely to provide alternatives to the worst proprietary software, but to also replace the most enticing proprietary software available. Yet, if FaiF Software developers settle into being users of that enticing proprietary software, the key inspiration for development disappears.

 

The best motivator to write great new software is to solve a problem that’s not yet solved. To inspire ourselves as FaiF Software developers, we can’t complacently settle into use of proprietary software applications as part of our daily workflow. That’s why you won’t find me on Google Plus, Google Plus Hangout, Facebook, Skype or any other proprietary software network service. You can phone with me with SIP, you can read my blog and identi.ca feed, and chat with me on IRC and XMPP, and those are the only places that I’ll be until there’s Free Software replacements for those other services. I sometimes kid myself into believing that I’m leading by example, but sadly few in the software freedom community seem to be following.

I would agree with Brad but I also am more lazy or pragmatic and use proprietary software galore, usually because others do, because it’s quite often good, because I persuade myself that there are gray areas where the use of proprietary software is not “bad” or “good” but simply reasonable. Thus, I drive a car based on proprietary technology, ride a bike that is totally proprietary in its making and even design, and use no end of technology whose patents, not to mention copyrights and trademarks, would  likely bury me, if printed out. Software is but one element. 

But just as there is movement to re-acquire the tools and objects by which we live, and to place proprietary  objects in their more historical perspective (“art,” but also “artisanals”), so too we can do the same with software, and conceive of the tools by which we make our modern life something “we” can build as well as use and exchange as well as buy and improve (or not) as well. 

World economy in freefall | Features | Fundweb

World economy in freefall | Features | Fundweb.

Worth reading… and global investment (read Keynes) has been so long in coming, no doubt for ultimately selfish reasons. This, despite the imminence of global climate change (aka: massively save and largely unpredictable weather), the precipitous decline of a lot of water and food resources (and their corresponding sequestration by those coming into and already in power).

Not exactly new observations but useful.

Grist

It isn’t your imagination: Political polarization has risen sharply in recent years. The Pew Research Center confirmed it in a recent poll.

Interestingly, Pew’s survey shows no similar rise in polarization along racial, gender, or religious lines — only political affiliation. What seems to have happened is not a change in value systems but a sorting of those value systems into more ideologically cohesive political parties. Conservatives have become Republicans; liberals have become Democrats.

It’s not just self-identified partisans. Poll Watch notes that it’s happening to Independents as well: “Independents who say they lean — but are not committed to — either party have grown further apart from each other, particularly in their views on the role and effectiveness of government.”

This process — not any decline in “civility” or whatever — explains the passing of the supposed Golden Age of Bipartisanship. Cooperation across party lines used to be…

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