Monday, January 30, 2006

The "Education" Rant

Over at Into The Machine... Into The Machine: Why Britain Sucks: The "Education" Rant

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Exmosis III

Exmosis has been updated to the latest code version and latest layout, which means it's now completely running off a chaotic layer of CVS, vim, Markdown and MySql. There's still some stuff to put in, but I think it's ready enough to use. I was getting a bit frustrated by not having all my recent stuff show up from the main domain.

New stuff including "a Problematic World", which attempts to explain the rise and spread of technology by placing problems, and the human race's mania to solve them, at the heart of innovation theory. Or something.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Empty Piggy Bank

The new-out get your war on links to this piece from the LA Times on the economic situation in/around Iraq, which is worth a read. Them people who insist that calls for getting out of Iraq now are unfounded because yes, it may be screwed in the short term, but in the long run we did the right thing should definitely take a look.


"The world is a competitive place," Tom Delare, economics counselor at the U.S. Embassy, said this month during a news briefing. "You have to convince the investor that it is worth his while to put his money in your community." ...

"No pain, no gain," Andy Wylegala, whose job at the embassy is to help Americans do business in Iraq, said...


The problem competitors have with seeing the system they operate in is that they assume that everyone's equal to begin with, and so anyone can compete. Problem is, most people entering the system certainly aren't entering on an equal footing. The impression I get from the quotes above is that tactic is to destroy a nation, under-estimate the reparation costs, and leave it to the savagery of the "market", absolved of any "responsibility" once the pledged money runs out. Seeya. But maybe it's a little more confused than that:

"We were never intending to rebuild Iraq," McCoy said. "We were providing enough funds to jump-start the reconstruction effort in this country."

Ah, hang on now. Jump-starting reconstruction is very different to handing Iraq over to a competitive market, surely? It's one thing to cater to other countries, but it's another thing completely to ensure reparation costs (not even expensive maintenance costs) at the same time.

Just like a client that wants everything done immediately once their budget runs out, it looks like the US are desperately trying to disentangle themselves from the oncoming disaster:

Delare said both the U.S. and world financial markets would be pressing the new Iraqi government to embark on a crash course of economic restructuring. (p.3)


This apparently includes privatisation, efficiency "cuts", and getting rid of corruption. Ah right, should take a couple of months then.

Looks like you just can't get the staff these days. Don't the Americans know how to rebuild a nation by now?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ee? US reaches into Pakistan to hit pro-Talebans? By the looks of it, this is a double screw-up - not only a whole bunch of people dead, but "outside jurisdiction" too...

And this may be BBC understatement of the month:

Tribesmen there are convinced the strike was the work of the Americans and are very angry at the attack.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

You are Here pt II.

One thing I wanted to mention following the techno-socio-ecological system was a practical aspect. It occurred to me for quite a while, but has now been clarified, that the idea of zero-sum vs non-zero-sum games is... lacking. The extent to which a game is or isn't so is affected largely by where you set the boundary. The idea of various systems as being zero-sum or negative-sum usually takes a very narrow definition of who or what is affected - socio-economics usually focus on welfare of individuals, for instance, while the technical rationality viewpoint (naturally) centres on technology. The problem comes when you assume that these boundaries are all there are.

By giving a more contextual system approach, the boundaries can be extended. By assuming that "we" are not necessarily just a collection of individuals, but a collection of individuals, agreements, tools and environments, borders get fuzzy and the effects of action A on the entire system can be understood more readily. In other words, what we may think of as positive-sum in one "aspect" of the system may really be zero-sum across the entire system. We may be technically and materially better off, but what makes us happy, what makes us societal, and what makes us live may be worse.

Obvious? Yes, possibly. Realised and taken into account? Generally not.

The Buddha Machine

Noticed that a local music shop had already sold out of FM3 Buddha Machines today, but as I didn't know what it was, I looked it up and found the review linked to above.

I like it because it makes me think different. I won't be getting one, but appreciate its existence. Is the future increasingly hardware?

Friday, January 13, 2006

You are Here.

The other day I read a paper by the late Rob Kling, with Roberta Lamb, entitled "IT and Organizational Change in Digital Economics". In this, they say:

"In practice, the boundaries between what is social and what is technological blurs because some of the system design encodes assumptions about the social organization..."
In conjunction with some other stuff I've been reading and writing, this has triggered something that's difficult to put into words.

There's a lot of discussion over whether technology shapes society (the technological determinism side) or whether society (and people) influence the way technology develops (the social constructivism side). Some people think one is more at work than the other, some people think it's more complicated than that.

When I was younger, I was probably of the former kind - a technological determinist. I liked technology, it made sense to me. More recently, I think I've been a lot more of the other - I've noticed the flaws in technology, but I've also questioned the idea that technology exists independently. But now I'm not even convinced of that. In fact, I think there's another alternative that defies both of these arguments.

The diagram above is supposed to illustrate the constituent colours of white light. White light, it can be seen, does not exist independently. You do not have "blue light and white light" - you have blue light in white light. White light is nothing but the sum of its constituent colours.

This helps to explain the X, then, in the middle of the diagram. This is where I see "us" - as a whole. A lot of the time, it feels like the discussion between technology and society is an "us versus them" thing - a struggle for power over ourselves. Are we the masters of the slave technology, or do the machines hold us in their grasp?

But the light analogy sees things differently. Instead of setting up a dichotomy, a split, it instead accepts that what "we" are is a necessary combination of both of these things - technology on one hand (including our ability to create and use it), and our "welfare", for want of a better word, on the other (including our emotions, our interactions with each other, and all the non-technical aspects to the human psyche). These two aspects exist in "harmony" with each other to produce "us" - what is, effectively, a part-tool, part-biology hybrid. That is our nature.

Why is this important? Because it gives up this struggle for control mentioned above. It accepts and understands both sides of the coin, realises that you can have the two so long as they're in balance, and helps put either in context of the other.

But the coin has a third side too - the third circle above is also important. To truly grasp who or what we are, we need to remember that there are things that are neither our physical form, nor our tools. This is the "environment" that we inhabit/cohabit, and is much larger than simply the ecological concept of forests and air usually pushed at us. This is, in effect, everything that affects us, and that we can affect, but that is not part of us and is not directly under our control. We need to remember that we are not the centre.

Kling talks of "socio-technical networks" rather than "technological tools". But this extension goes in all ways. We need to think of "techno-societies" rather than societies - and not in a "modern", industrial sense, but in a very inherent, "this-is-what-we-are" kind of way. And we need to extend that to a "techno-socio-ecological system" approach that hangs everything on different sides of the tree.

In short, we need to diffuse the idea we hold of ourselves.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sterling hits choppy seas

Hmmm...

Sterling fell sharply ... on Wednesday as the UK’s goods trade deficit ballooned to a record £6bn in November, far in excess of consensus expectations for a gap of £4.9bn.

That's a biiig miss on the expectations... EU trading is up, so wonder why everyone else has stopped buying our stuff... Maybe people are wary of the dollar's future, aren't spending quite so much? hmm.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

China Set To Reduce Exposure To Dollar

Washington Post reports on China's progress on switching away from the dollar. The key quote for me is:

Were China and Japan to engineer a significant fall in the dollar, those nations also would suffer the consequences -- sharply diminished exports as Americans lose spending power, plus a drop in the value of their dollar assets.

Gotta remember that the success of these countries depends on their stuff being cheap to buy. Devaluing the dollar is only in their interests if they have the self-capacity to continue strong development without this dependency. South Korea is in the same state.

When will this state arrive though? Will it ever? Or will things just settle into an uneven state of off-balance once the currencies start evening out?

Monday, January 09, 2006

My First Essay

After declaring that I'd try to blog more about stuff I'm doing at Uni, I thought it good to follow up with this. "My First Essay." It's not the best essay ever, and I feel like I'm still trying to strike a good writing style that fits into an academic environment (i.e. some formality, but not boring), but what the hell...

A quick outline. It's on the different impacts that technologies have on society, concentrating on:

  • intended vs unintended consequences

  • complexity as a barrier to diffusion - complexity of production, and complexity of use

  • the normalising effects that technology inherently has - incorporating compatibility and expansion as a result of a "lust" for technical efficiency, and the idea that people use technical objects as an indicator of social status. For me, this section is probably the most interesting.


  • You can find links to it at Exmosis: Uni Writing.

    This term should be good: Innovation for Sustainability, and ICT Policy and Strategy.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    DVD TNG: Confusion Reign?

    The Blu-ray/HD DVD thingy is hotting up a little, as a handful of films get announced for Blu-ray. In summary, this is the VHS/Betamax battle of the post-DVD generation, with both formats offering larger amounts of storage space and (hence) higher quality films. (For a really techie, in-depth comparison of the 2, see this cdfreaks.com article.)

    But the feedback (at least on Slashdot, anyway) is more hesitant. People have only just finished replacing their VHS collection with DVDs. Are the new generation of media formats coming in too quickly to take hold?

    The problem as I can see it is that people want bigger storage formats to replace data media, but won't be bothered about the increase in picture quality (DVDs are good enough on an average TV) or the more stringent DRM protection.

    One of the biggest draw of CDs and DVDs is that you can play them on your specific player, or you can play them on your PC. The PC probably isn't going anywhere just yet, despite various players wanting people to take up a separate and dedicated "media centre" machine (and thus another OS license). And people probably aren't going to want to upgrade their sitting-room DVD players just yet - people aren't that greedy or stupid.

    Furthermore, the proliferation of DVD formats has left even me confused - DVD-R? DVD-RW? DVD+RW? DVD+/-RW? Heavens. The market expands to provide products that cope with everything. Now throw in 2 more formats into the fray, and where do we stand? "Need a CD-RW/DVD+-RW/BD/HD-DVD drive, Sir?" Bah.

    On a personal level, I'm considering just giving up on constantly-replaced technology. I've had enough of it. Media codecs are much easier to update. On the market level too, I can't help but wonder what's going to happen. Computing and Entertainment have now been intertwined as never before, but this move could send a rift through the harmony. It probably won't, but expect confusion.

    Re-assessment Time

    2005 is done with, discarded like an old rag. I've had one very interesting term at Uni. I've got new toys. My belly is full of sushi. 2006 is upon us like a savage dog. So what lies ahead? Here's some random thoughts presented like a round-up.

    1. Part of me feels a little like I'm getting sucked into the ivory tower world of academia. There's lots of interesting thoughts coming out, and while I may not be ready to blog any research just yet, I have been feeling guilty that most of my thoughts have remained on paper. So this year, hopefully some more posts on stuff I'm studying and how it ties in with the rest of life.

    2. To come: Updates on organising myself. Suffice to say that the complex note-taking/publishing wiki-type Vim setup I had in mind has been surpassed by red notebooks. Oops. Still, a new handheld PC thingy might make things interesting...

    3. I haven't been ranting enough this last year. More ranting!

    That's enough for now.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists

    This is neat - one DSL line, a day or two, and Amazon wishlists: Datamining for subversives

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Blogger Web Comments for Firefox

    A few weeks late, but I've only just discovered Blogger's Web Comments for Firefox extension. This is kind of like Annozilla for the 21st century - every time you go to a page, an icon in the statusbar flashes and Firefox retrieves blogs that have linked to the page via Google's blogsearch (what with Blogger == Google et al).

    A list of blog entries then pops up in the bottom-left hand corner - the whole thing is smooth and quite non-intrusive (so far) - which you can click on to load in a new tab or whatever. You can also add your own comment, but haven't played around with that yet. Maybe expect a blog post here using such technique...

    The whole thing reminds me a lot of Annozilla (and that other one that got closed down by over-zealous webmasters), only it works cos Google's behind it. Which annoys me slightly, as it shows once again that getting decent decentralised schemes off the ground is actually quite difficult. Oh well.

    Right, back to the essay...

    You Can't Handle the Truth

    This is something I always wondered, but just thought I'd post it again today... BBC News are reporting that Iraq suicide bomb attacks kill 80. Fair enough. But where do different news sources get their numbers from? Judging from the "other news sites" box, some kind of magic arse hat:



    So should I be believing that 80 figure now or what? News confuses me.

    Still, at least it's not as bad as this one...

    Zing!

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