Monday May 22, 2006

Act Of The Apostle Part 1

Act Of The Apostle Part 1 by Belle and Sebastian is easily the song of the year. With the year only half over, one might pause, but with my limited exposure to new and challenging music, it is basically a shoe-in. One of those dance-around-the-apartment kinda tunes.

Monday October 17, 2005

Listen to Thomas Friedman

C-SPAN2 has Thomas Friedman on BookTV holding forth for three hours.

Tuesday September 6, 2005

Personal Continuity

Of all the stuff I read this week (I've spent about 5 hours a day on my computer reading blogs, news sites, watching clips. Links to significant items is here) it was W. David Stephenson's website that inspired me to do something. I'm hoping that the failure of our state and the profound incompetence on display will foster a resurgence of American collective pragmatism.

I realized that I have quite a bit of practical experience in disaster preparations and business continuity. I want to take this opportunity, while people are more aware than ever how fragile the infrastructure that supports them is, to try to help them prepare. I've made your standard worried sysadmin 'backup your data' pleas in the past. But this is a little different. I think it is time to transition what you can of your lifestyle and the trappings of your identity into a more redundant format.

Who didn't kinda chuckle at dad when he made a disaster kit in the basement or gathered the family to talk about what to do in an emergency? I mean, it all seemed absurdly inadequate. We were all convinced that we were going to be ground-zeroed out or irradiated and some batteries and blankets and water would only prolong the grizzly end we'd seen in doomsday movies. But as you grow older, you start to understand how much you depend on comfort and security. And how it's made of lots of little things you have to look out for.

I don't chuckle any more. I've grown more responsible. I've lived in the 3rd world and seen the disparity of support that a government can provide. And I'm interested in improved communications systems because they are a humanitarian gift and at the same time, purely because of their intrinsic beauty.

I'm certainly not one to dwell on terrorist attacks or doomsday. I feel a strong urge to temper fear and panic. Survivalist freaks are all waving their guns and saying "I knew it was coming". Allen G. Breed has told the amazing story of some folks in one area of New Orleans that seems to justify those fatigue-wearin inbreeding weirdo's: French Quarter Holdouts Create 'Tribes'

But I want to focus on how these events bring people together and how we'll be able to communicate during and after. In fact, I revel in power outages and any other disturbance of the infrastructure. (Except maybe routine traffic) There is something immensely beautiful about seeing your environment and the way people in it are immediately transformed when some aspect of the infrastructure stops working. I'm mostly talking about situations where people had all their toys and technology yanked from them suddenly, leaving them unshackled from the churning machine of daily life. Everyone suddenly has to ask a serious question: "What do I do now?" it's a question that no body ever asks themselves because it's always being answered for them. It's the snow-day phenomenon. It's why thousands of people go to Burning Man. (God, what a week to be off the grid. They're going to come back to a whole nation that has a much worse hangover than they do.)

I first experienced 'release' at Autodesk where I worked as a systems administrator. The days would roll on, fixing computers, crisis after another resolved, keep the whole thing going and then suddenly, all the coders and information workers who I supported suddenly couldn't use their machines. They were doing work on the highway and the entire campus' power had been cut. For the people in our group, who were used to being the ultimate support system for these people, it was quite a shock. There's usually always a way around a problem. But no power meant no job. I remember the realization, and was shocked at its abruptness. The power went down and I slowly lifted my fingers from the keyboard, listening to the silence. This wasn't the first time it happened and I'd been told that if the power went off for more than a few minutes, it would have to stay off for hours. Grid fail-over mechanisms required this. The initial impulse was to wait for it to come back and sit around and figure out if there was something else we could do to go on. But there wasn't. In fact, we were forced out of the building (as a commercial building without power is a dangerous place to be) and literally turned out onto the streets in the blaring Marin sunshine. And there was nothing to do but hang out and talk with one another or go home.

This may seem naive and insulting to people who truly suffer in these situations. I don't want to make that seem trivial. I've never been in a terrible situation like we are seeing in New Orleans this week. And I'm not making a comparison of a power outage at work to a hurricane and flood. But the disturbance can come in many unpredictable ways. And you have to be imaginative and flexible in dealing with it. Any thing we're dependent on can be snatched away from us in an instant. And we're dependent on a huge web of goods, services and infrastructure. Imagine the banking/credit infrastructure zapped. Image the transport of all goods and services suddenly frozen. DeeDee and I are photographers and have a large portion of our work in the form of little fragile pieces of gelatin film sitting in our closet. I think about something as simple as a candle in our neighbor's house causing a fire and burning down our house down while we're at work. Fire safes don't protect negatives.

So let's get on with some collective pragmatism. How far to you want to take it? Survivalist thinking is a slippery slope. Do you prepare for the most likely and probably least damaging circumstances, or do you reevaluate every facet of existence and determine how you could provide it for yourself if someone else couldn't. This is roughly the difference between getting a fire extinguisher for your kitchen and wholly owning your own hideaway in the woods, fully stocked for new-pioneer life on the other side of societal extinction.

My approach here is going to be the former. The latter is well documented in all the survivalist rags and strikes me as a thinly disguised luddite fantasy land. And I'd like to investigate the dependencies to find out if there are some really simple and low-barrier things we can do to make ourselves less disaster prone. You can never simply explore all the possible threats and then figure out counter-measures. You use design principles that are proven to provide fault-tolerance and recoverability and you hope your ass is covered.

I did a lot of these things when I left for India. When you carry everything you have in backpack and you're on the other side of the world, you have to think about how you will start from scratch if you loose everything. It forced me to think about where I was going stash a backup copy of my passport and how I would get it if I had nothing and was nobody. Living there for months with no chance of mail forced me to put every connection I had to financial systems into 'online' mode and become 100% virtual. One of the best things this forced me to do was sign up for and use an on-line check writing service. If this is available from your bank, you'll never use (or order) paper checks again.

You may argue that becoming so virtualized makes me more dependent on computer systems. It is true that if I didn't have access to a computer, much of my personal information would be lost. But it is so much easier to make computer systems redundant than all the bits and scraps of personal detritus trailing you. That is why I say the first step should be to move as much of your paper-based identity into digital format as you can.

Think about all the physical items you depend on to keep your life going: identity cards, keys, little black books, business cards with numbers on the backs of them, hanging files filled with documents, credit cards, your laptop! How thick is your wallet? How clogged is the bottom of your purse? Sure we can all get over the loss of these things, but what if you lost your house and you wallet? If you could have your wallet back easily, wouldn't that make it easier to be homeless? You can't digitize your house. But you can digitize all the stuff in your wallet.

Never fear. With the added dependence on computer systems comes much more flexibility in your ability to design systems that are redundant. Far from being a slave to digital systems, they are a way out of the determinism in a disaster situation. In order to have continuity, where you have one thing that is broken or gone, you need another of those things to take its place. Whatever makes copying these things and distributing them around easier should be given primacy.

While you are thinking about how you are going to digitize everything you have, get a DVD burner and make a backup of all the data you have. This is important: don't wait until you have new data. Make the backup first, then try to figure out what to do with it. The first few you will make will probably be failures. As you make more you will learn how to do it better. And you must learn how to do it because no one else can. Do not count on an accountant.

It is crucial when making these backups that you use the absolute "lowest-common-denominator" technology available. Do no assume that programs and systems you used to make the data are going to be around to access it. Text files are a good idea for 'bootstrap' type of information, like the details you need to access you ISP.

And when I say all the data you have I mean everything. There is no point in being picky about it. And don't let attempts to 'get organized' get in the way. Mail the big, sloppy backup DVD(s) to someone in another state. Your mother is probably a good candidate.

Don't put this off if you can't get all your data backed up. You can even mail off old backups you might have made on CD's that you have laying around. Don't put it off if you don't have everything in digital format. The point is to start moving in that direction. It can take months just to virtualize your banking.

I'll be writing more about this later. There are a million little tips and things to consider in the small area of personal continuity but I'd also like to consider some of the things that will make each person a better member of a smart mob. Having all your personal information will help greatly. Systems will go off line for a short period but they will come back. I'd also like to explore what we do when things go off line or worse. I'll be reading more W. David Stephenson.

Tuesday May 17, 2005

White Gold

The ring around my finger is made of white gold and the man who helped get it slipped on is writing under the White Gold brand. I helped him a little last December and pointed him towards Blogger and I come back and he's got a fully producing blog. I'm going Atom on that.
Expect the White Gold brand whenever you feel warm, bright, relaxed, beautiful, sophisticated, vulnerable, committed, loving, spiritual, real, direct, open, intuitive, sensual, uplifting, fulfilling and inspired mainstream culture.

Sunday May 1, 2005

Hate, lies and perverted racism

This made my day. I think it is in fact the first hate mail I've received about my website. It vaguely implies that the person has read something I wrote about India on my website but I have no idea what they've read. I looked up their IP and apparently, they sent this from Bryan, Texas. I've never been there but I'm sure there's the same mix of tolerant and ignorant folks as they have in India. I think this Mofo is definitely in the ignorant camp...

Subject: Hate, lies and perverted racism.
From: "matador little"
Date: Sun, 01 May 2005 21:37:32 +0000

You racist idiot,

Why the hell do you have to go all the way to India to put your racist ranting online??

Freaking idiot, understand this.... what you see there is a result of white christian liars and terrorists like you stealing other people's resources. Look around in your soceity and see what you can do to change it, you mass murderer of red indians!!!!

What is there to say about it? It's a perfect piece. If you're reading this, you probably like me more than this guy so I'm assuming you'd be on my side. (which I don't mean to imply is necessarily the side of "white christian liars and terrorists" although, I do admit to living in their midst) Anyhow, a blog isn't a place to defend yourself against an angry e-mail. I just wanted to post it because I was so proud of it. I'm sure a lot of people see my site and think this but never e-mail me. So this is my prized possession. Touché, little matador!

Friday April 29, 2005

Ballroom Chairs

Can't remember what Miguel and I were doing in Vegas..Oh yeah, the porn convention and we were going to his friend's wedding reception. It was in a casino and I had nothing to do so I started walking around through the deserted ballrooms and I took Miguel's camera with me.

Ballroom Chairs

Ballroom Chairs

Thursday March 24, 2005

Supreme Court to pro-lifers -> deeeenied.

Actual text of the Supreme Court decision follows:
(ORDER LIST: 544 U.S.)



The application for stay of enforcement of judgment pending the filing and disposition of a petition for writ of certiorari presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court is denied.

I'm absolutely addicted to this case. The bullshit over the weekend in the congress was incredible. The most amazing thing was a 1/2 hour press conference by some democrats on CSPAN. (Only problem with the awesome (totally awesome) vid feeds on CSPAN is that the video archive seems to only last for 15 days. So this video will die on April 5th. I've emailed CSPAN and asked them why the don't make it easier to use their video. RSS feeds would be quite nice.)