Monday, December 14, 2009

The Exact Measure of Injustice

I came across this excerpt of a speech Frederick Douglass gave in 1857 on the topic of slavery.
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Drake Equation for Information, Why the Future of the Internet Will Be Fun

So there is this equation, named after Frank Drake, that allows one to guess the potential number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy. You make a guess for a bunch of probabilities and multiply them all up and the numbers are rather amazing. When I think of ideas, I think there is kind of an equivalent equation for all the ideas out there that are meaningful to you, from those that are just neat to the oh-shit-my-view-of the-world-just-did-a-180-and-I-have-to-sit-down ideas. So here goes:

Ilike = P x Iday x fweb x fpublish x fread x flike

Ilike - The number of ideas you like, encountered over the course of a single day.

P - The total population of the world, 6,692,030,277 as of 2008.

Iday - The average number of ideas each person has every day that they might share. I will use 10.

fweb- The fraction of people who can read and write and use the internet. I will use 1/10. According to this source 25% of the world has internet access.

fpublish - The fraction that publish their thoughts in a place that you could find. Could be face-to-face, email, blogs, twitter, facebook, whatever. I will use 1/100.

fread - The fraction of everything published or spoken that you find and actually read. I will use 1/1,000,000.

flike - The fraction of ideas that you read and like. I will use 1/10.

So 6,692,030,277 x 10 x 1/10 x 1/100 x 1/1,000,000 x 1/10 = 6.6 ideas per day that you like

The first thing I think when I see this is that we don't get squat. We sit on the shore of vast amounts of information and sip a few little drops everyday. Now those drops are many many times more interesting than the average of whats out there, but still very small and no where near whats possible.

So imagine if some cultural shift could multiply each fraction by 10. People could read more and think 10x more thoughts, have some spare time and publish 10x more, and find the internet interesting and read 10x more. The result would be 6,692 interesting ideas per day or 1 idea every 12 seconds. Constant neat stuff that never gets old. Now imagine that 1 out of 10000 ideas you like are really big. You would get one of those every other day.

Now obviously this is too much for any one person so people rank and filter stuff and only the really good stuff gets to you when you have time. Or maybe this overload increases your threshold for what is interesting. And what happens when people get exposed to the world of ideas, come to similar conclusions about what is great, and all start thinking about what everyone else likes. Multiply another 10x to flike. Information nirvana all the time.

Read-Write Culture, The Next Big Idea That Will Change Everything

Lawrence Lessig on Charlie Rose

This is long but I promise its worth it. For a long time I've looked at all the problems and all the great things and saw that how they became great or how they will be solved were the same process. Great things are usually the creation of many people, though its usually the last guy who adds the last critical piece that gets the credit. Big problems are so complex that its beyond any one person to understand it all and come up with a solution. So people working together is very important ... duh :). The trick is how do you get people together in a deliberate organized way. Not just kind of random or with huge efforts like knocking on doors or buying expensive commercials. So this last week has gotten me really excited in that I see one way it could work and its simple and powerful. So here it is.

How do ideas happen ? Think of all the things that you think are great. Did you make them yourself from scratch ? Probably not. You heard them somewhere and mixed in your own ideas. And you think that the way you see them is better and more meaningful, at least to you. If you look at everyone doing this everywhere. Some one hears something, thinks about it, and shares it, there is a kind of idea evolution. Richard Dawkins calls it meme evolution. Its kind of a free-speech market-place-of-ideas kind of thought and its the basis of people getting together to socialize since the beginning of time.

Now for some science that will blow your mind. So there is the theory of evolution. Basically it states that there is variation in a population and some in that population are better suited to their environment and they have more offspring and increase in number in the next generation. This simple little process over a long long long time made all life everywhere. But there is an odd thing about that life. It was unaware of what it was doing. It acquired competence in dealing with the environment without cognition of what, why, how, or anything. Ants for example don't think. They just follow some simple rules that implement a near optimal search algorithm based on scent trails. So evolution produces competence without cognition.

So I promised some mind bending stuff so here it comes. Ideas that go between people evolve like life. They have variation. Some are better suited for their environment, i.e. people like them more, and they pass on to the next generation of ideas i.e. people talk about what they like. But, and here is where it gets good, this process has always been limited to the people around you, the dozen or so people you see in everyday conversations. But now there is the Internet. You could talk to the whole world if you could filter out all the crap and get what you like, the whole world. Let me say that again, the whole world, all 6,692,030,277 people as of 2008. Somewhere out there, there is one guy that is going to have an idea and he is going to share it and it will spread and change and adapt and change the world forever, for the better hopefully. And the people that work on that idea won't even realize how big it is, just like the ants who have competence but not cognition until its there, done, and someone steps back and sees the forest for the first time when all they have been looking at are trees.

So where is this happening ? Take a look at Twitter and Facebook. Not the "my-dog-just-farted I'm-going-to-sleep-now" conversations, but the moments when someone finds something really neat. Something special and they share it and someone else sees it and goes wow I see the world a little differently now. And the number of people sharing and learning and working on what they have discovered grows and grows and grows till people start talking about a fundamental shift in culture. A shift from mass produced ideas to grassroots ideas, from read culture to read-write culture.

This type of culture is different. New things don't come from a big R&D Lab and then sold to the masses each one exactly the same. They come from semi-professional amateurs laboring away at what they love, getting together, and sharing ideas, each unique, just for fun. Trying really audacious things that have a high risk of failure but huge returns. And they don't care if it fails. Its fun. Something a R&D Lab in a big company with established products would rarely try.

So get ready. Its is going to be a wild ride.

Here are all the sources that got me thinking:

Lawrence Lessig on the next big idea

Competance without Cognition
DARWIN AND THE EVOLUTION OF REASONS By Daniel C. Dennett on (no direct link)

The Origin of the Mountain Bike
TED talk "Charles Leadbeater on innovation"

Cloud Super Intelligence (Slides are hard to follow but possible to get the gist)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Planet Rubber Roller of the Washtub Galaxy

I took this pic on the front porch of Cracker Barrel while waiting for a table. Its a rubber roller on the edge of an old washtub.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Delayed Gratification

There is evidence that waiting in this delayed gratification test correlates with higher SAT scores (heard it on Radio Lab somewhere).

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Gandhi, Non-Violence, and Philosophical Anarchism

Oct. 2 was Gandhi's birthday and I stumbled across this when Google changed its logo to mark the event.

Gandhi Quote From Wikipedia:

The science of war leads one to dictatorship, pure and simple. The science of non-violence alone can lead one to pure democracy...Power based on love is thousand times more effective and permanent than power derived from fear of punishment....It is a blasphemy to say non-violence can be practiced only by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals...The nearest approach to purest anarchy would be a democracy based on non-violence...A society organized and run on the basis of complete non-violence would be the purest anarchy

I have conceded that even in a non-violent state a police force may be necessary...Police ranks will be composed of believers in non-violence. The people will instinctively render them every help and through mutual cooperation they will easily deal with the ever decreasing disturbances...Violent quarrels between labor and capital and strikes will be few and far between in a non-violent state because the influence of the non-violent majority will be great as to respect the principle elements in society. Similarly, there will be no room for communal disturbances....

A non-violent army acts unlike armed men, as well in times of peace as in times of disturbances. Theirs will be the duty of bringing warring communities together, carrying peace propaganda, engaging in activities that would bring and keep them in touch with every single person in their parish or division. Such an army should be ready to cope with any emergency, and in order to still the frenzy of mobs should risk their lives in numbers sufficient for that purpose. ...Satyagraha (truth-force) brigades can be organized in every village and every block of buildings in the cities. [If the non-violent society is attacked from without] there are two ways open to non-violence. To yield possession, but non-cooperate with the aggressor...prefer death to submission. The second way would be non-violent resistance by the people who have been trained in the non-violent way...The unexpected spectacle of endless rows upon rows of men and women simply dying rather than surrender to the will of an aggressor must ultimately melt him and his soldiery...A nation or group which has made non-violence its final policy cannot be subjected to slavery even by the atom bomb.... The level of non-violence in that nation, if that even happily comes to pass, will naturally have risen so high as to command universal respect.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Philosophical anarchism

My Brightest Diamond, Nina Simone, Feeling Good

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Reeds driftin on by you know how I feel

Its a new dawn
Its a new day
Its a new life
For me
And Im feeling good

Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom in the tree you know how I feel


Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, dont you know
Butterflies all havin fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
Thats what I mean

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Four Seperate Ideas

Dreaming Big

Every so often a venue opens up where ones success is only limited by the audacity and grandness of ones dreams. As I look around the world I see random events. Things happening just because they ended up that way, good things and bad, especially the bad. As I look around I also see something crazy great, the Internet and the communities being built on it, free to create connections across time from the past to the present, across geography from one culture to another, and across wealth with few barriers of cost. So the stage is set. We can take our dreams of how we wish the world worked and begin to change it from this dreary place where we have to live with what we happen to randomly get, to a place where everything that needs to happen does.

Truth Telling

The world is hard to understand. Our brains have a go at it and often get it wrong. Its part of the everyday. The trouble is that recognizing a mistake is often more difficult than making the mistake to begin with. And its not fun to be wrong. In fact being wrong about a major life choice can be a disaster (religion is an example). Not many people go looking for all the ways they are wrong. The nice thing about the world though is that there are experiences where the truth of something leaps out with a good chance of being right, a truth telling event. As a programmer, every day I build something that if it is faulty I have only myself to look to as the cause. I come face to face with my mistakes and how I make them, day after day. And I think this is the best way to find the truth, to go looking for it, to inundate ones mind with views and perspectives where you can experience that moment where the truth leaps out with clarity, even if it is a disaster.


What do you value? When have you been happy ? ... Not the giddy rush of adrenaline but the moment that you remember with quiet earth-shaking tears of joy. Was it material ? ... something constructed with great precision and difficulty like a watch or a car? ... Or was it a moment where a dream touched Earth and became real. Dreams of action, of wrongs corrected, of dignity restored, of possibilities never before seen, of diseases cured, of space explored, of the environment saved, of lives changed. Would you exchange one form of luxury for the other? Would you draw a line above which you gave away to change the world, perhaps forever? Your money is your vote.

The Culture of Work

Do you have a career? Do you acquire job skills? Do you think about peddling your skill set among the highest bidders? And at the end of the day you take your money and do what you really want to do? Does this skew economic activity toward the basic necessities and what people do in their free time? What is money in an economy supposed to do? First and foremost it allows people to specialize and be more productive and then trade their services in a free market. All of their own free will with no central organizer and it all works wonderfully. Well not quite. Ever try to start a business? It often takes allot of work to put things together before their is a profit to keep things going. So most people settle for working for someone else, serving the interest of a business, perhaps a large one. What if you don’t like your job ? How much misery is endured by people around the globe simply as a result of a lack of choices brought about by the high barrier of creating a business and that business's inability to find those few that would love to work there? If you could solve that problem you could change the culture of work. People would set out to accomplish some activity instead of having a career. They would create businesses around something they love. What people do with their daily time might actually matter to them beyond just income. People might invest in businesses they love, maybe more just to get it done. What would get accomplished then? Would we call it work?

Monday, August 24, 2009


I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination. ~John Keats

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Wire

I am finding Bill Moyers Journal to be the height of my weekly ritual. The ideas are rich and deep. This week was no different. David Simon was a crime reporter for the The Baltimore Sun
and creator of the HBO series The Wire. Here are some highlights of what I walked away with:
  • All institutions corrupt themselves as individuals distort the truth for personal gain. Without good investigative journalism allot of it goes unreported and uncorrected. Examples include politicians, police commissioners, and educators who "juke the stats" to create the appearance of success. These same institutions are entrusted with solving problems and they don't.
  • The underclass in America is seen as disposable to decision makers (including voters). When tough choices and priorities are set those that are not needed get left out.
  • The drug policy in the US is broken. The drug trade is the only viable economic activity for someone facing no meaningful future. Prisons don't solve it.
  • The balance between personal gain and public good could shift as watchdogs like newspapers and an informed public erode.
The full video of David Simon on Bill Moyers Journal is available online here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Charter for Compassion

I found the ideas of Karen Armstrong on Bill Moyers Journal to be one of those gems that make searching through the world of ideas worth while. The profound philosophy of the golden rule, stepping outside oneself, seeing the value and viewpoint of other people, the destruction that comes from ego having to conquer all, and that truth is found standing in someone else's shoes.

Karen Armstrong on Bill Moyers Journal (includes video)
Karen Armstrong at the TED conference
Charter for Compassion

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Interesting words from Nikki Giovanni

An poem called "Choices" from a discussion between Nikki Giovanni and Bill Moyers.

"if i can't do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don't want
to do

"it's not the same thing
but it's the best i can

"if i can't have
what i want then
my job is to want
what i've got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more
to want

"since i can't go
where i need
to go then i must go
where the signs point
though always understanding
parallel movement
isn't lateral

"when i can't express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal
i know
but that's why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry"

Parker Palmer on Bill Moyers

Interesting discussion on dreams and reality and the dangers of living too far in either direction.
BILL MOYERS: You've written that we all have to learn to live in what you call the tragic gap. Now, some people are going to find that notion very un-American then because it flies in the face of the fundamental American assumption of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What is the tragic gap? And who wants to live there?

PARKER PALMER: Well, I think the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of reality because illusion never leaves us ultimately happy. And I think the opportunity now is for us to get real. And I think that's going to make us, in the long run, more happy. The tragic gap, and I call it tragic not because it's sad. It is. But more fundamentally because it's an inevitable part of the human condition.

Tragic in the sense that the Greeks talked about it. Tragic in the sense that Shakespeare talked about it. The tragic gap is the gap between what's really going on around us, the hard conditions in which our lives are currently immersed, and what we know to be possible from our own experience.

We don't see it every day. We may not see it very often. But we know it's a possibility among real people and real space and time. Now, what happens when we don't learn to hold the tension between what is and what we know to be possible?

Marc Andreessen on Charlie Rose

Lots of tidbits on the world of the Internet and technology. Link