Sunday, July 30, 2006

Do Something Positive

photo Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette

Earlier this week a TV panel was discussing the isolation of American opinion from broader opinions shared around the world regarding the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and one of the commentators said: "Americans live in a media ghetto." I'm not sure I agree really, but the comment rattled me anyway. Skimming through the Sunday paper today, I got the impression that I see things differently than most. I'm not sure that it's a matter of differences of opinion, rather how I paste things together.

Eritrean-born musician/author in the Sunday UK Times zung me a zinger by saying:
“Don’t cry for these people. Don’t cry for me. It doesn’t count. I want to see positive action. It’s not enough to say, ‘How sad, we hope something will change’. Hope is good, but it’s not enough.”
Sobs, I cry from sadness, I cry from frustration. I've got to agree with Senait it doesn't do a whole lot of good. On the other hand when I read so many expressions of enthusiasm for death and destruction, I'm flumoxed. I don't get it.

Turning to the fashion page of the newspaper I was delighted to see the pictures from Dee Blemahdoo's shop in Homestead. I want some African-inspired clothing. I like this picture most because of the hats. I've gotten requests for Party Hats for Potash in fabric. I respond that it could be done. I don't have any intention of making them, first because it would be hard and second I'm pretty sure they'd be no more popular than the paper ones. Still, I like hats, and having momentary misgivings about ripping off Bob Donaldson's photograph thought to post a picture of Wangari Maathai. Something I like very much about Dr. Maathai is she so often wears something big and decorative on her head.

The pictures of hats were a second choice, I wanted to post this interactive map, The World Map of Happiness. It's so cool, but too big a file to post. The map was made by Adrian White, Analytic Social Psychologist, University of Leicester. The Danes come out onto in terms of satisfaction with life. What makes the Danes so damn happy? White notes that happiness is most correlated with health, wealth and education. When it comes to figuring out something positive to do those three suggest what to do and why war makes me so unhappy. War! Good God, Ya'll.

Doing something positive is hard. Over the weekend I attended a meeting about the Africa Project. Without a doubt a productive meeting, but none of the tasks that lay before the group really thrill me. In particular, my stomach churns when it comes to fund raising. Nevertheless, it was great to be at the meeting if for no other reason than to meet Mbao Mwiya-Ngula, Executive Director of Project-Educate improving education in Zambia. Mbao was very kind but relentless in making the group focus on what specific positive actions we intend to do.

Angry Black Bitch
is one of my favorite bloggers. There's much to admire about her. First of all she does a great job blogging about issues in St. Louis where she lives. Another thing is she's always doing something good. But most of all I love to read ABB because: "Now, don't fret...a bitch may be angry but my ass is not unkind (wink)." The bitch--I had a hard time typing that--most certainly is kind. The Rude Pundit gets linked to a lot and yes, I've been there and laughed at what I've read. But, you know, the Rude Pundit is, well--rude, so it's not a frequent stop for me. Nonetheless, taking a summer vacation, the Rude Pundit has assembled a star-studded cast of guest bloggers starting next week. Monday, July 31st Angry Black Bitch and Bitch Phd will double team for a day of "bitchitude." I'm sure to check Rude Pundit out all week long for writing by some of the blogosphere's best women writers.

I'm really not sure what to do in the face of so many problems in the world today, except to try to do something positive. I'm not sure how much help I'll be to the Africa Project, but it was very worthwhile meeting Mbao Mwinya-Ngula who really is getting something done. And the Angry Black Bitch reminds me that passion and feeling go hand in hand with doing good. It's not impossible to improve health, increase wealth, and spread education and in doing so make us all happier.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Social Money

image(altered)from Good Money

The browser crashed and I lost this post. I hate when that happens! What's so surprising is that while I remember what I wrote about, I don't have a solid memory of what I wrote. Oh well.

My new aquaintance didn't much like my blog, but his criticism was really more general. He wrote about the prospect of his writing:
Maybe someday I'll start a blog,but I don't want to until I have something important to say. I don't want to just express myself, I want to express important ideas and provoke
I must admit that my approach to putting stuff up has been akin to thinking aloud. I knew from the beginning that my idea for Bazungu Bucks was quite half-baked, but in the process of printing some up, handing some out, and writing about them, I've continued thinking---bet you thought I forgot about Bazungu Bucks.

Recently via the intrepid blogger Phil Jones I discovered BillMonk a Web site that makes keeping track of informal debts and repayments easy. The site even makes keeping track of books and stuff possible. It's easy to imagine many times when this service would come in handy. I thought back to my student digs with multiple roommates and how great it would have been.

Earlier in the month also on Jones' Platform Wars, Phil addressed the difficulty for Web developers have in monetizing their great ideas, here and here. He points out: "the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol." The Internet is a rival platform towards the same end as money. So he makes the observation that the really important question asked about sites like MySpace isn't: "Where's the money?" but rather "Why the money?

Gaurav Oberoi and Chuck Groom the developers of BillMonk helpfully answer the question about their site: "What's your profit motive"
Our service is free to use, and we're adamant about not selling your personal information to Evil, Inc. So what's in it for us?

We believe the "social money" market is huge; friends continually have informal debts and shared expenses, and money flows between them. But because of its informal nature, this market has been largely invisible. We intend to build a product so compelling that it becomes the method of choice for managing social money. With enough users, BillMonk could track millions of dollars in person-to-person transactions.

While the core use of BillMonk is and always will remain free, our revenue model will include collaborating with financial institutions to offer settlement services to this entirely new market.
I'm left scratching my head about specifically how they're going to make money with this really cool idea, but I'm quite certain that "social money" is going to be huge.

Phil Jones observes that TCP/IP (the stuff that makes the Internet possible) is a rival platform to money, and in a rival network to boot. I suppose that even rivals can play together when that suits them, and it seems already there are good examples like BillMonk where hard cash and social money are playing together.

I love Kiva, the Web site that allows lenders to lend to specific entrepreneurs in developing countries. No question if I ever find a way to make some extra money I'll set up an account at Kiva and start lending. In the meantime I simply pay attention to what they're doing and they make it easy to keep abreast through blog posts. This recent post at Kiva Chronicles and a related post at Into Context really caught my attention.

My friend Nathan in Iganga, Uganda is very interested to find ways to use new information and communications technologies to aid in economic development in his community. One of the issues that Kiva faces is dealing with the amount of time consumed by traveling to villages where the entrepreneurs live and work and then getting back to where the computer is. Intermittent electricity and Internet access also causes delays. Their thought is to use SMS from cell phones to send the information to the Kiva Web site, much like a handy feature of BillMonk.

Hash at White African has a really good idea to make cell phones a useful connection to the Internet. Here's the blog post where he introduces the idea and a large size PDF here. Zangu 'Africa's Web" is what they're calling it. The idea is so cool, the way that Hash is preceding to bring the idea into reality is cool too.

I've been intrigued by alternative currencies after reading about Time Dollars. Up on high ground in Western Pennsylvania, I still felt swamped when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. My heart went out in trying to imagine just how complicated rebuilding was going to be for everyone. It takes a lot more than money. A Time Dollar Network seemed it might be of assistance, so I dreamed about Big Easy Bucks. New Orleans was still on my mind when I began this blog and hence the idea for Bazungu Bucks.

Yesterday via Christian Long's think:lab I found Donor Choose a site that's a little like Kiva. Teachers post proposals and donors can choose to support specific proposals. The site allows you to sort the proposals in several ways. I choose to look at proposals from Louisiana. Those of you who don't know teachers may not know that teachers spend bucks from their own pockets for school supplies and are adept at "begging borrowing and stealing" supplies. Donor Choose is very worthwhile. Naturally, what many teachers in Louisiana want are books for their kids. Here's a great site for Harrison County in Mississippi, The Dewey Donation System.

Teachers everywhere want books for their kids. Books For Africa is a wonderful organization. One way to support Books for Africa is to purchase books at Better World Books.

Apparently now even Monopoly game players can now purchase properties with a debit card. Perhaps all of this doesn't quite hang together. But the thread I see are new ideas about money brought about by the platform rivalry Phil Jones alerts us to. Cool.

The way I imagine them now, Bazungu Bucks are a "funny" kind of social money. People can earn Bazungu Bucks, one BB for one hour of time in service to African people. The fun part is that people who have Bazungu Bucks might get time or stuff from people who might want Bazungu Bucks, almost like trading stamps.

So far nobody really wants Bazungu Bucks. The first problem is finding it hard to imagine ways to lend their hours of time in service to African people. A second problem is knowing who else has Bazungu Bucks and what they might trade them for. Phil Jones is a polymath and gave me a neat bit of software to keep track and publish who has Bazungu Bucks. That's a workable solution to the second problem. Now for the first, it's a matter of coming up with proposals for what people can do. I'm lazy, but I'll get around to something along those lines.

Social money is gonna be huge.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Frilvolous Exclamations

Polaroid by David Pohl

Over the weekend I attended a picnic in support of The Africa Project in Schenley Park, a very familiar park to people who've attended The University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University. It rained which probably affected turn-out, still it was great to meet lots of people there. I'm not very good at networking, but I got an email address and promised to send a few links to a fellow I met there. I did that and got some feedback about this blog in the process. As you might gather from the title of this post the feedback wasn't favorable. The great thing about blogs of this sort is they don't really matter much; that is, there are so many blogs out there it's really just a matter of attending to the ones which catch your fancy.

Really, the difficulty I've had recently in posting hasn't been worrying about you, my dear readers, but rather feeling less certain about anything I might say, in particular anything having to do with African issues.

I always enjoy reading Ethan Zuckerman's blog posts, and Is Israel a problem for the Democratic Republic of Congo? addressed the problem of media attention about Africa in an original way. Zuckerman thinks it's important for world citizens to be informed. He suggest that when we read about the Israel/Lebanon conflict and other stories with well-worn preexisting narratives, that we endeavor to seek out a story about Africa in the news. He wrote:
You’ll likely find the news confusing, complicated, incomplete and unhelpful in forming your opinions about how Central Africa can move towards a peaceful future. And that, oddly enough, is a useful first step.
"Confusing," "complicated," "incomplete" and "unhelpful" indeed, I've found all of that. And the big stumbling block for my writing posts is not wanting to add, even in such a small way, to the confusion. But I found Zuckerman's observation that coming to grips with the complexity of issues affecting Central Africa is a useful step towards a peaceful future.

My new acquaintance finds this blog off-putting; the reason for sending him links was our discussion about how little use he has for the Internet in general. That's not changed, but among the links I sent him was Ish Con and that forum caught his attention. The beautiful thing about first steps is they encourage other steps. There was a note of excitement in his email about finding an online forum of people who are exchanging views about ideas he finds important. It's a first step.

My morning paper had an editorial regarding the Sunday elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'm sure like most regional newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette dosen't expend much ink on African issues, but I'm pleased they don't completely ignore them either. As Zuckerman points out, if Americans want to read news stories about African issues, they'll have to look for them. But that's not so hard to do.

A few Sunday's ago Post-Gazette reporter Ervin Dyer wrote a beautiful piece, What I Learned to Give about his efforts with the children of Lincoln Elementary Technology Academy to raise money for and elementary school in rural Somany, Ghana. Lincoln-Lemmington is a hard part of town. I searched for a link for the neighborhood and an awful lot of the entries on the page results included the word "incidents." It's a safe bet none at the students at Lincoln Elementary are growing up with a silver spoons in their mouths. Dyer wrote about the kids five-week long effort to collect pennies for the school in Ghana:
Every day we should teach society's forgotten children to imagine that they can care, and that through their caring and through their gifts they can change the world. One person at a time.
Kenyan Analyst linked to a story in a women's magazine published in Ghana, Seeds of Hope: Kenyan Children Helping Children. The children of Kemeliet Primary School in Meibeki Valley, Kenya collected maize, eventually 200 bags (each bag weighing 100kg) for children in drought-affected areas of Kenya. Dyer speaks about "teaching the children" but I for one have much to learn from the students of Lincoln Elementary and Kemeliet Primary School.

One word that Zuckerman didn't use regarding reactions to reading African news was overwhelming, but I feel overwhelmed sometimes. For example here's an article I read today at the BBC, Bleak future for Congo's child soldiers. Might I say how much I object to "bleak futures?"

At the Africa Project picnic I met a man from Northern Uganda who is here in the States for a short while. He actually works in Southern Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. He thanked me for all the help I offer. I protested that I don't do nothing, but he insisted that my attention and the attention of so many Americans is important and appreciated.

All of us can play a positive role towards a peaceful world, even when we are unsettled and confused by the news. The children of Lincoln Elementary worked hard to help their fellow primary students in Ghana, and were happy to do it. All it took was someone to ask for their help, and Ervin Dyer was happy to oblige. Ethan Zuckerman is right about the importance of taking that useful first step. A line from Zap Mama's beautiful Nostalgie Amoureuse comes to mind:
We are the winners
If we unclothe our eyes
The scene is not what it seems
The healing waits in our sky.

Hey there! Before you walk away
Show me the smile that says
I’m not alone
You see what you want in me
This crazy life is my home.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Africa Project Picnic

Via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Events Calendar:
To fund their support of the children affected by the war in Uganda, The Africa Project of the Thomas Merton Center is holding its first International Soccer & Family Fun Day Picnic.

The event includes food, African dancers, drummers, and ongoing soccer games. Recent stories, drawings, and videos collected from former child soldiers in Uganda will also be shared at the picnic located at the Oval in Schenely Park. $5 suggested donation.
The Africa Project is the result of my friend Peter's hard work on behalf of the children of Northern Uganda. He's always been good about keeping me informed about opportunities to help out, but somehow I never manage to. I'm sure to attend the picnic, and I hope if you're in the Pittsburgh area you'll consider stopping by The Oval Pavillion this Saturday afternoon (July 22).

I was looking for a picture of Schenley Park at Flickr to use with this post. Searching for 'Schenley Park" I happened upon Daniel Weeks" amazing set of Kite Aerial Photographs (KAP) in and around Pittsburgh. The idea of KAP astounds me and some of the shots of the city are quite cool. Weeks provides pictures and descriptions of his equipment and there are sets of KAP taken elsewhere.

The news from Northern Uganda has been coming fast as furious for the last few weeks. The Lord's Resistance Army has entered into peace talks with the government of Uganda. I've been following the news, but am loathe to comment much recognizing the complexity of the issue. A very good collection of news stories about the developments can be found at The Uganda Conflict Action Network (Uganda-CAN)Web site. Click on the July archives for more.

"Wear a bracelet and unite with the Invisible Children." That link goes directly to The Invisible Children bracelet campaign site and there's a short video about the bracelets. If you haven't heard by now Invisible Children is a documentary film about the night commute thousands of children make in Northern Uganda to sleep in the relative saftey of Gulu. The children sleep by the thousands in basements of public buildings, depots and the like, because they fear abduction by the LRA in their home villages. The film is quite moving and if you haven't seen it consider buying the DVD and sharing it with others.

The filmmakers were so moved by the making of the film that they've committed to doing something good for the children of Northern Uganda. That pleases me to no end, but what amazes me stuck in the dinosaur analog era is the way they are using digital technologies to connect people with the children there. The bracelet project is another in a line of interactive ways to address the suffering in Northern Uganda. Each bracelet is a different color and comes with a DVD of a short film telling the story of a real live child in Uganda. In a way the filmmakers have found a way for the audience to participate in the way the story comes out. You can make a difference. Wow these guys are on to something, check out the Web site Invisible Children.

There are many good organizations involved in the issue of child soldiers. Just typing "child soldiers" sends a pang through my heart. I'm sad to admit I've done little. Here's a link to the War Child International Network worth visiting if only to understand that child soldiers are not unique to the LRA in Northern Uganda.

One of the reasons I'm so eager to attend the Africa Project picnic is to meet some of the young people here in Pittsburgh who are trying hard to make a difference there. There really is power in networks. I think we all can find ways to contribute our unique talents to very honorable efforts. It's never been easier to do. We don't have to be millionares, many worthwile efforts don't require giving money. A very good example is Malaria a computer modeling effort for malaria control. You may have heard of other volunteer computing projects. The idea is that certain problems are so complex they require enormous computing resources. Super computers aren't a dime a dozen, nor are there enough of them to be used for such projects. So volunteer computing is based on the fact that people's personal computers are idle most of the time. A simple computer program allows people to volunteer their computing resources in a giant network for solving complicated modeling projects. It's quite easy, no skin off your back, to help in such a way.

The Africa Project Picnic should be fun. There will be food and the suggested donation is only $5. Hope to see you there. I'll be sure to bring along a stack of Bazungu Bucks to give away. You never know when a Bazungu Buck will come in handy.

Update: I guess I have to be qicker on the draw. The Malaria Control project now has enough computers for their project. However there are other similar projects which you can find out about at the BOINC homepage or wiki.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hens and Chicks

The picture is a clump of Hens and Chicks growing in the wall by my front door. I've got Hens and chicks growing in dry stonewalls in my garden and the colonies started with a couple of tiny plants haphazardly planted in the rough stone near my little house. The botanical name for them is Sempervivum which means always living. What prompted me to take the photograph was the the rosette going into flower. Sempervium are hardy alpine plants; my careless gardening technique is evidence indeed that they are hardy. The plants are monocarpic, meaning the rosette that sends up a flower stalk will die having completed it's mission, giving lie to the plant's name.

There are so many cultivars and they are so easy, I really should go out of my way to add some cool looking ones to the colonies. There's a good picture of Sempervivum flowers at a page at North Hills Nursery and their collection of cultivars remarkable. I'm rather lazy about being a plant collector, but I encourage the habit in others anticipating gifts from their gardens.

This week my brother-in-law came to visit with two of his grandchildren. I rather like the fact that I'm a great-uncle, but my mind still hasn't wrapped around the idea of grand-nieces and nephews. I remember being a bratty little boy when my brother-in-law was courting my sister, it doesn't seem so long ago. The kids who came to visit are 15 and 13. They remind me that while I have memories of my own teen years, I've forgotten what it's like to be a teenager.

Great fun to watch online activities behind their backs. They love MySpace. I can't figure the place out. I don't think I'm alone in that. I've heard parents complain about their kids and the place and how perplexed they are by MySpace. I didn't learn much by watching them interact with the site and people online, but it sure was fun. It makes me want to check out MySpace a little more and also dozens of other places in the online social networking scene I've been missing. Tonight I downloaded LastFM.

My nephew said he wanted to "pimp my MySpace profile." I sorry now that we didn't get around to that. He said he'd put up a reggae song there. Interesting what that says about the way he imagines me because what kind of music people identify with is extraordinarily important to both my niece and nephew--can't quite manage to say grand. They like emo music. I've often thought what I need is a teenager to guide me through the perplexing online world. But since he left without pimping my profile, I had to explore the the music section on MySpace alone. So cool that there are bands from all over and so many songs to listen to. My friend Pingting who does his illustration work at his computer for long hours sometimes refers to the computer as a "time suck." There is only so much time for attention.

It's been a long time since posting on my blog. I'm out of practice and this post seems awfully hard. There's so much I want to talk about; not posting on my blog doesn't mean I haven't been reading blogs all this time. I've been tuning into all sorts of interesting discussions and of course busy corresponding with my online social network. Parents and more sensible adults than I worry about how Internet rambling cuts into the time for productive activities.

The ever thoughtful Phil Jones in recent posts provides an interesting perspective reframing the subject of productivity. He writes at Platform Wars:
The more effective the internet and the web are at helping us communicate and co-ordinate, the less money will be involved. Because ultimately the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol

The network is not the means to the end of money.

Instead, money and IP are rival protocols in rival networks which are means to the same end : that of articulating human labour to create more wealth for humanity. Money isn't wealth, it's just a kind of signal which can be used to help identify good ideas and channel more resources to them. On the internet we are increasingly finding alternative ways of identifying and signalling what things are worthwhile.
And in a continuing post writes:
Behind all the familiar phrases like "peer production" and "attention economy" and "amateur journalism" is the basic fact : people are being motivated to produce stuff by something other than money.
I have few illusions about how valuable my blog or my other online production are, still they have some "value" but precisely zero monetary value to me. I'm sure my nieces and nephews value their MySpace pages and other online production too.

Like most kids my neice and nephew understand well that money is a communication network. We were going out and the niece wanted to wear the nephew's metal studded belt. "Oh no," he said "I paid thirty dollars for it." I heard arguments about the value of their MySpace pages too: "Why is he your friend and not mine?" The willingness to collaborate on things they were doing on their MySpace pages was prescribed. Both were quick to share "how to" information but loathe to cede any authority on judgments about how the pages should look. Of course the point is to make the pages exactly how they want them.

Most American kids are involved producing stuff to put up on the Internet. People the age of great-uncles less so. We miss something very significant when we imagine Internet use as unproductive. Kids today natively understand the value of Internet production. It's quite a shift in perspective. I've not been very successful in convincing my friends "of a certain age" that participating online is a valuable activity worthy of their attention. As a baby-boomer "the generation gap" was a hot topic in my teens. With the recent visit of my nephew and niece, I'm beginning to see how vast the generation gap is today.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's Cool

I've lost track of where I got the picture for today's post. Wherever it was, the picture was used to illustrate Ugandan child-soldiers, but if I remember correctly the picture was actually taken in Sierra Leon and the boys probably soldiers caught up in the Liberian civil conflict in during the Charles Taylor presidency.

Last night I was hanging out with some friends in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Oakland is where the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are located. We were all standing very near to a place on Atwood Street where I had lived back in the 1970's during my student years. It was a hot night so lots of people were hanging out on their porches and stairs. Up the street from where we were standing some fellows lit a packet of firecrackers. One of us in the group I was with fell right to ground. A friends said, "You can tell who among us was a soldier."

That was quite a revelation to me. Everyone I was with is young, college students, or recent graduates. I was there because The Africa Project connected to The Thomas Merton Center has been quite active lately and are in the midst of organizing a July event. I've missed all the recent meetings and wanted to get up to speed with what's happening and how I might help.

My young friend was on the ground at the sound of firecrackers, and that made me understand quite viscerally how war in Liberia had left an indelible mark on him. How old are those boys in that picture: 10, 12, 13? My friend, graduate from Pitt in Chemistry ready to begin his graduate studies in Medical Administration, cool as a cucumber, but flat on the ground at the sound of firecrackers. The picture I've posted and all the pictures of child soldiers I've seen kind of whir around in my brain with the image of him on the sidewalk along Meyran Avenue; to see him as if in one of those pictures.

Feedback from my last post on this blog seems as though, that is the way I've heard it, boils down to, "John (yeah Kaunda is a somewhat accidental screen name) you've gone over the edge." More to the point, the question is: "What the hell are you trying to say?"

I'm not at all sure what it is I'm trying to say. What I'm trying to do is to play around in blogging. Blogs are a new medium of communications. It's been a very long time since I read Marshall Mcluhan's Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. I don't think I understood it much, but I remember feeling rather excited about the ideas at the time. McLuhan, media scholar he was knew the effectiveness of slogans and coined "The medium is the message" to convey the idea that the consequential place towards understanding media is not the purpose and content, but the various media themselves: "blame the messenger" perhaps.

I don't know very much about computers. Like most people, I don't have a high level of competency in any area of specialization; rather I know a little about lots of stuff.

I stumbled on a discussion prompted by Chris Pirillo about the relationship between users and developers of software. Phil Jones in a pithy reply to Pirillo's notion that users had better start telling developers to jump and that developers ought to respond "How high?" slaps down Pirillo's pretense. On one level Jones' response boils down to: "Developers know more than you do." and Dr. Science would concur. Development of software requires a very high level of specialized knowledge, which doesn't just happen overnight, but requires deep immersion in study.

Via guest-blogger DK over at Joshua Marshall's Talking Points Memo a link to a report that the US Air Force is studying blogs as a source of credible information to help fight the war on terror (WOT). Dr. Brian E. Ulicny, senior scientist, is quoted as saying:
It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what’s important in blogs unless you analyze patterns.
The interesting problem is figuring out how blogs work more so than collecting and analyzing content.

Right from the start my dear readers have noted the lack of organization of my posts and suggested various approaches for correcting the deficit. One straight forward suggestion is to write the posts in my word processing software. But having begun blogging, I noticed that the process of writing in the handy Blogger software seemed quite different from writing in the standard word processor. One obvious difference is the ease of inserting links. That's very important because an essential intention of every blog post is to send readers away from the page: "Hey look, yonder, over there!" Writing blog posts was different from any other writing I'd ever done. I was aware it was different, but not too sure of how it was different.

As a computer user, I could care less about what makes my software work, I just want to do work using the software. At least that's the way I thought before reading some of the discussion prompted by Chris Pirillo's Users Vs. Developers. Over time users like me find that the software we use develop all sorts of problems. And users like me don't have a clue as to what we can do to resolve them except to find various work-arounds. I suspect like many others, I attribute a "personality" to the software installed, even in paranoid delusions imagine it conspires against me. I'm realistic enough to know such thinking isn't particularly useful, but the alternative to actually learn something about the way the software works just seems too difficult to imagine.

Andrew in the comments suggested that perhaps what I was trying to say in my previous post was: while discussions between users and developers might be useful, it's hard because we often don't share the same language. That's true, of course, but I also had the vague apprehension that by only thinking in terms of what software can do for me I've been totally oblivious--and remain so--about the fundamental architecture of software. This lead to my thinking about the changes software will bring about by the way that software is and that's different from thinking about what software does.

I like a car so I can go to the grocery store and haul my groceries back. But understanding how cars change people and the environments we construct won't come from merely paying attention to the mundane uses I put to the car. The Air Force study is entitled: Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information. When I read that the first thing I wonder was what "ontologically-based link analysis" is? I'm not sure, but I think it's the ontological basis of software and that whatever that is might be important to understanding what software is doing to us.

McLuhan called various media "hot" or "cool." Movies are "hot" because they accentuate the visual sense. But television doesn't have such a high resolution of the visual sense, this was particularly true in the early sixties when most people were watching broadcast TV with often poor reception. A greater number of senses were required to construct meaning from television programming versus the very visual film medium. So with fuzzy pictures McLuhan considered television a "cool" medium. A fundamental point is to understand the important effects of media, what various media do to our minds, we need to look at the medium itself rather than the messages conveyed. Blogs seems cool to me too.

A friend in Holland, who is from Somalia, wrote a beautiful line in a recent email:
I understand that many people, including you and me, are keenly interested in a world in which social justice is not any more the privilege of a few but a timeless, unbounded generality. Utopia should not be found only in dictionaries since morality is not an engagement without binding! Where there is a will, there is a way and many are busy building the way.
Blogging is very much a part of this effort.

Dr. Ulicny in the article about the Air Force study about blogs said:
Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.
Dr. Ulicny when looking at the "information battlespace" is paying attention to the opposite side of the coin I've been paying attention too. Still, it seems quite informative that he and other scholars looking at blogs have proceeded in the study informed, it seems to me, by insights into media which McLuhan wrote about so many years ago. It's the ontological analysis I was pointing to in my last post in re users and developers of software. But I'm still trying to sort things out in my mind about that.

In the meantime, Phil Jones is busy blazing new trails in cyberspace. He has a new blog complementing a new project producing podcasts of interviews with some of the smartest bloggers around. The name is, Political Ideas and Values. First up is an interview with Dan Abbott who blogs at tdaxp. Both Jones and Abbott are deep in their knowledge of computer science. True to Phil's blog name, Political Ideas and Values, the interview follows topics of doing rather than being. However, Jones raises the question explicitly about the affinities between computer science and Abbott's political research. It's interesting to hear throughout the discussion how such a systems-view does affect how they think about things. The conversation is intelligent, accessible, and well worth your while to check out.