homologies between diverging traditions of thought

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Teen fashions indicative of feminism's successes?

My mom and new hairdresser were commiserating over the tragedy of her niece having a baby at 16. The niece was apparently in the habit of wearing mini-miniskirts, and when she bent over, you'd see her thong - not appropriate attire in their book. "We always said, if it isn't for sale, don't advertise it." They tut-tutted - THEY would never have allowed her to dress that way!

I'm not clear on exactly what relationship her short skirt has to getting pregnant young - it's certainly not a necessary condition for pregnancy, nor a sufficient one. And there, I think, is the part they were used to be you didn't dress like that because you were seen to be inviting rape. A conservative wardrobe was self-protective. Feminists have worked hard to remove the spurious link between what you wear and your desire to be victimized, freeing the next generation to wear self-expressive clothes. Hooray! On to the next battle...

Usable Pizza

As if Zachary's - my absolute favorite pizza - wasn't already amazing enough, last night the Solano street pizza chefs got high marks on usability. I took home a half-and-half half-baked deep dish pizza - spinach-mushroom for me and mediterranean for my companions.

With the tomatoes smearing the top of it, and all the taking out of the carefully labeled box and putting in the oven, the pizza gets turned every which way and there was a risk I might dig into a *gasp!* mediterranean piece...but no, the Zach's folks had it all figured out, and saved me before I knew I needed it. A few mushrooms decorated the top of one side of the pizza, indicative of the spinach-mushroom ingredients lurking underneath. Opposite sat an artichoke heart. Perfect!

...until you eat those pieces...

Friday, November 12, 2004

Primate Privacy, Social Security

Danny Weitzner spoke on privacy at SIMS recently. He advocated the need to regulate not just the collection of personally identifiable information (PII), but also the usage of it, specifically ways of combining information from various sources to infer things about people.

While listening to him I found myself profoundly struck by how our conversations about security and privacy have such technical definitions of the problems and the success of the solutions, seeming to completely ignore the fact that these concepts, and the need for them, arise from human social interactions. So we talk about the risk of identity theft as losing money, and something that VISA wants to help avoid, and a technical issue that all information managers should have some savvy about (hence my presence at the talk), but we don't talk about what it means to a social primate that all these little pieces of information about me are floating out there.

As a human in a social world, I chose to reveal those pieces of info about myself, depending on my relationship to you. Over time, through observations and proximity, and through trust or the lack of it, you gain little pieces of information about me. That history provides one way to characterize our relationship. You, and perhaps my larger social networks, are capable of combining the various pieces of info about me, and making inferences, and essentially creating the social, larger-than-me parts of my identity and my reputation.

Danny talked about the increasing power of computers to make inferences across our pieces of PII, but what seems to be left out of the conversation are the implications of this for me as a social person - what does it mean for me that these impersonal computers are performing these inferences about me? That corporations and other entities are understanding me in ways that used to be the perogative of my social circles? If we'd thought more about this, could we have predicted phishing? Could we predict the next human-mediated security risk? Can we advocate social-human-aware privacy and security solutions? Can an understanding of human social uses of security and privacy lead additional useful descriptions of the harms that computerized inferences achieve? If regulations are written about usage and inferences with PII, would a social perspective allow them to be written to last beyond today's technology? If my identity is larger than my physical body, could I use my social networks in authenticating myself?

Now the conversation about privacy & security issues starts to sound interesting!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Cordless Landline Cell Phone Phantasy

A good friend of mine moved...but her number stayed the same! Ah, the miracles of cell phones - one number, one person. Except..she called me the other day to tell me her new landline number. That way she doesn't have to worry about the cell phone battery dying, see? But now which number do I call? We're back to two-plus numbers for one person. *sigh*.

What about me? I don't have a cell phone because I can't afford both landline and cell phone, and I don't want to give up the landline voice quality. Besides, why create two-number hell for my friends and family?

Both stories point to the need for a hybrid beast - a landline-cellphone. While in the house, my cellphone acts like a cordless phone, talking to the landline base station and giving me great reception. None of this wondering-if-my-cellular-service-will-get-reception-at-home nonsense. The base station has a cradle for charging my cell phone. And when I walk out the door, I grab it from the base station, and it becomes a cell phone. People call the same number, and they either get me at home, if that's where I am, or they get me on the cell, if I'm not. Or you get my voicemail box - just one box, not two. Not two that I have to remember to check, or that you have to call another number to leave a message at. Isn't that the point of cell phones? You dial me, there I am. One number, one person.

Not to mention that all of my phone contacts are in one place, so I always have the number for dialing you back.

Tell me if you see this in existence out there...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

My Pet Peeve: How I'd restructure the entire world

I have this thing about people who profoundly investigate the co-option of Western society's images symbolism by the Judeo-Christian androcracy... and then refuse to investigate the term "hierarchy."

It's a small hobby, but just recently re-invigorated by being ill. Being ill gave me time to read The Da Vinci Code, which inspired me to pull The Chalice and The Blade off of my shelf for another look. On page 106, though, I got distracted...

"This leads to a critical distinction between two very different kinds of hierarchies that is not made in conventional usage. As used here, the term hierarchy refers to systems of human rankings based on force or the threat of force. These domination hierarchies are very different from a second type of hierarchy, which I propose be called actualization hierarchies. These are the familiar hierarchies of systems within systems, for example, of molecules, cells, and organs of the body: a progression toward a higher, more evolved, and more complex level of function." (italics in original; bold added)

Two vital points...

First, the biological example provided for the "second type of hierarchy" isn't a hierarchy.

Secondly, who says "higher" functions are superior, more evolved?

Let me provide some food for your thoughts on this matter.

The definition of "hierarchy":
hier- or hiero- sacred: holy
hierarch n 1: a religious leader in a position of authority 2: a person high in a hierarchy
hierarchy n 1: a division of angels 2 a: a ruling body of clergy organized into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it b: church government by a hierarchy 3: a body of persons in authority 4: the classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing; also, the group so classified 5: a graded or ranked series [Christian __ of values] [a machine's __ of responses]

From: Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

The origins of the word "hierarchy":
hierarchy [14] Greek hierós meant 'sacred, holy.' Combined with -arkhes 'ruling' (as in English archbishop) it produced hierárkhes 'chief priest.' A derivative of this, heirarhía, passed via medieval Latin hierarchia and Old Franch ierarchie into Middle English as ierarchie (the modern spelling was introduced on the basis of the Latin form in the 16th century). At first the word was used in English for the medieval categorization of angels (into cherubs, and seraphs, powers and dominions, etc), and it was not until the early 17th century that it was applied to the clergy and their grades and ranks. The metaphorical use for any graded system soon followed.

From: The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins

Back to the first point - despite numerous writings which I've seen insist that the notion of hierarchy must be preserved in order to describe the organization that we notice in living systems, there is no need to invoke a hierarchy to describe that organization. Nor is the nested biological organization of molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems similar in kind to the graded system of angels. The second is providing relationships between distinct entities; the first is focusing on the behavior of the exact same living materials at different levels of granularity. A hierarchy of biological those biological entities is only possible with specimens. A nested organization of the angelic system would focus on the angel at one level of granularity, and on the harp, wings, gown, sandals, curly hair, and spirit body at the next smaller level of granularity. These are smaller parts of the same entity, not the subordinate entities.

And now the second point - "hierarchy" and the superiority of "higher" locations are so intricately entertwined with Judeo-Christian value systems that they should probably be abandonded - or if they are to be re-interpreted & co-opted, it requires great care and thoroughness. In the hierarchy, the angels on top are more holy, being closer to God on high. Heaven is up, Hell is down. Doesn't that provide some fundamental evidence for where we derive a value structure that deems "higher" functions to be "more evolved"? As Eisler strives to elucidate the impact of Judeo-Christian androcracy on our societal images of how-things-are, shouldn't we strive for language that only continues those images with explicit intent, not through un-thinking common usage?

I'm sure I'll have another installment in this rant ;)

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Energy Efficiency & The American Lifestyle

Question on Marketplace: What do I think of W. Bush’s Energy Policy?

I think it’s a real shame that he’s so happy to give the impression that conservation is privation – that conservation hurts. With the right choices in vehicle technology and building materials, we have what it takes right now for Americans to use 50-90% less energy and never have to sacrifice flipping a switch or going a mile! If implemented today, that would seriously reduce our dependence on foreign oil and our greenhouse gas emissions, without asking Americans to give up their “High-energy life-style”.

More than that, I firmly believe that, with leadership from the White House, America’s R&D and economy can accomplish miracles. Five decades ago, our president said, “We’re going to put man on the moon.” And a decade later, we did. What if today, our president said, “In ten years, we’re going to use only what’s available from the earth and sky in each year, AND have the strongest economy in the world,” I think we could do it. We’d live off of today’s energy and today’s water, without having to borrow from the past with fossil fuels and fossil water from aquifers, and without borrowing from the future with water and air pollution, ecosystem damage, and rising health costs. I don’t believe the choice is between pollution and economic depression. I’d like to see that kind of leadership, that kind of vision, in the White House.

Monday, June 19, 2000

Versatile Vehicles Smear Public/Private Boundaries

Even with all the new technology in materials, computers & electronics, the idea of the American car hasn't changed much in way too many decades. We've built up so much infrastructure around what we've got that "innovations" either fit the current system, or they aren't considered seriously for long. Even though every American out there knows that driving their car is using up a fuel that can't be replaced and pollutes the air, we can't seem to change our habits.

So it's time to take a look at those habits, and at that infrastructure, and make a drastic change that honors all of these factors but doesn't accept them as limitations. It's time for a new-style, public-spirited personal vehicle. Every geneticist knows that sometimes it takes hybridization to restore vigor to a crop, and our crop of transportation innovations needs some new vigor. The new strain: a vehicle that blurs the lines between car, taxi, rental cars, busses, and trains all in one go. A vehicle that aspires to the mobility of a motorcycle, the environmentally-mindedness of public transit, without the drawbacks of either.

I don't have a name for this vehicle yet, but I can imagine it quite effectively. It's a one-person pod, with room for a briefcase and coat; it's comfortable to sit in, and has plenty of room to read the paper. It's sleek & sporty, or square & practical, depending on it's owner's taste. There's a steering wheel, gas pedal & brake, because when there aren't many other vehicles around, this baby can hit the open's part of the promise of personal vehicles that Americans will not let die easily, so let's build it in.

How about when there's lots of traffic around? Or for when you'd love to take public transit, but then for your second errand, the bus doesn't go to that part of town. Well then, doesn't this baby shine! Because instead of pushing pedal after pedal to get the right balance of stop & go, you just sit back, read your book or watch the scenery, and enjoy the ride. Your vehicle has become your personal car on the commuter train. Communicating wirelessly with all the cars around you to adjust the speeds just so, everyone whizzes along at a steady speed, keeping a safe distance from all neighbors, and automatically negotiating any lane changes to get you where you're going as smoothly as possible.

It's not that crazy. Have you ever paid for monthly parking in a garage, and used a plastic card to gain entry? Waving that card near the electromagnetic field around the sensing post creates just enough disturbance in the little circuit in the card that it can broadcast an ID number, and the computer knows if you're going in or out. Why not have a little circuit like that in the road, and let your car do the sensing? Feed that on-the-ground data right into your onboard GPS and your stored regular-route maps, and you're set to go.

How about wireless internet surfing? Using that type of technology, the cars would talk to each other & negotiate optimal speeds and routes. And instead of only being able to tell what's happening several yards ahead, your car would know several miles ahead. The whole stretch of vehicles can choose an optimal speed, or optimize who takes a detour to avoid bottlenecks ahead.

What about on the weekend, when you want to go camping? In your garage, just twist & click! to add on the Sweetheart module. Now you've got a two-seater, and then add the Trunk module to provide room for the tent. Maybe there's even a sleek, aerodynamic compartment you can attach to either side for your bike when you get to the other end. Hey, if they can make camera bodies and camera lenses light-tight and with electrical controls, they can make an extension module for your vehicle. That way you don't have to carry all that weight around all the time, paying the fuel charges for it when you really only need to use it a few times a week, a month, a year. Sure, you love the fact that your pick-up truck can bring stuff back from Home Depot, and carry the Christmas tree easily, but do you need to drive around all that capability all year? Not only that, but vehicles will be more affordable. You can buy functionality as you need it, much like disk drives, printers, and software upgrades on computers today.

There will have to remain a certain infrastructure for heavy trucks and ambulances, but the rest of the lanes on the highway are suddenly doubled. New to town? Pick up a public vehicle at the airport to get you where you're going. There might be some fellow travelers with you in a multi-pod, or you pay a bit more to get a private one. Getting around without your own vehicle? Catch one pulling up at an old bus stop...there are lots of them every few minutes now that bus drivers don't need to drive each pod. Or call for one on your cell'll come pick you up, take you where you're going, and dash off to the next one, optimizing the here and there to the best ability of the latest network analysis algorithms.

Without the need to defend yourself against 40-car pile-ups in heavy traffic, your vehicle won't need half a ton of steel to keep you safe, and lighter cars will get better fuel mileage. Car insurance rates will go down, because there won't be as many accidents. The same parking lots that are used now will provide almost twice the space. There's always a train leaving when you get there, you don't have to give up your personal space to someone you've never met before, and you'll always have a seat. You don't have to pay twice as much to bring your family just pay the extra fuel. Each person will outfit themselves with the type of pod they can afford, making choices about what type of fuel the vehicle uses, how powerful the engine is on the open road, how many sport stripes it has - all those little factors that we do today. You will still be able to use your car to show off status - I don't forsee any revolution suceeding in divorcing American culture from that one.

Here's the benefit to top them all: there won't be a tug of war for public dollars & people's hearts between roads & public transit - because it will ALL be hybrid transit. In most new American cities, and even out in the middle of nowhere USA, the places we want to go are best served by the roads. We'll never be able to make trains that go all the places we need them to, or busses either, for that matter. So right now Americans have to choose, and the choice is pretty easy - in order to be able to go ALL the places I want to go, I go for a car. Once I've set out in my car, or accepted those monthly payments, public transit becomes costly in terms of time, or fares, or simply infeasible. But if I'm operating one of these versatile vehicles, if the roads become the public transit infrastructure when I'm in a crowd and set me free to drive when there's no one else going my way, there's nothing to stop every American car driver from making an environmentally friendly choice. Our nation can revolutionize the environmental costs of private transport, while revving up the public transit offerings...because they'll be indistinguishable. With all the features to win Americans' hearts.

A whole new playing field for innovations. GM, hear me roar...there ain't no reason to make those gas-guzzlers no more!