Early adopter, entrepreneur, leader interested in software, the Internet, mobile telephony and computing, and VoIP. Founder or senior management with The Personal Bee, Orb Networks, CallTrex, Borland (BORL), The Dr. Spock Company, Neta4, WhoWhere?, CMP Media, and IT Solutions.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Email From John Kerry

In case you don't get email from John Kerry:

Dear Edward

This is our moment of truth. You and I have to make it absolutely clear that we won't stand for Republican "Swift Boat" style attacks on Jack Murtha.

Yesterday, an extraordinary congressman, former Marine Drill Sergeant and decorated Vietnam veteran, spoke out on the war in Iraq. He didn't come to that moment lightly. He spoke his mind and spoke his heart out of love for his country and support for our troops. No sooner had the words left his lips than the vicious assault on his character and patriotism began.

Today, in a statement on the Senate floor, in interviews with the national media, and in this message to you, I am seeking out every opportunity to defend a brave American hero that the Republican attack machine has set their sights on.

I urge you to do the same. Whether you agree or disagree with Jack Murtha is irrelevant. These despicable attacks on Jack Murtha's patriotism and courage must be met with an enormous public outcry. Call your local talk radio show, write a letter to the editor, phone your members of Congress - join me in acting now to reject these "Swift Boat" style attacks on Jack Murtha.

It disgusts me that a bunch of guys who have never put on the uniform of their country have aimed their venom at a marine who served America heroically in Vietnam and has been serving heroically in Congress ever since. No matter what J.D. Hayworth says, there is no sterner stuff than the backbone and courage that defines Jack Murtha's character and conscience.

Dennis Hastert -- the Speaker of the House who never served -- accused Jack Murtha of being a coward. Well let me tell you, Jack Murtha wasn't a coward when he put himself in harm's way for his country in Vietnam and earned two purple hearts -- he was a patriot then, and he is a patriot today. Jack Murtha's courage in combat earned him a Bronze Star, and his voice should be heard, not silenced by those who still today cut and run from the truth.

Instead of letting his cronies run their mouths, the President for once should stop his allies from doing to Jack Murtha what he set them loose to do to John McCain in South Carolina and Max Cleland in Georgia.

The President should finally find the courage to debate the real issue instead of destroying anyone who speaks truth to power as they see it. It's time for Americans to stand up, fight back, and make it clear it's unacceptable to do this to any leader of any party anywhere in our country.

I urge you to join today in a massive public outcry that rejects the attempt to demonize and destroy anyone who dares to disagree with George W. Bush's aimless "stay for as long as it takes" policy on Iraq.

Please act now. Call and email your elected officials. Flood talk radio with calls rejecting these vicious smear tactics. Send a letter to the editor. Express your outrage about the tired old Rovian "Swift Boat" style attacks on Jack Murtha.


John Kerry

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Price of Democracy

"The price of democracy is eternal vigilance," our founding father Thomas Jefferson once said. I was reminded of this by an email from my mother-in-law Elena Schmid in response to my previous post, We Need a National Conversation.

With permission, I repeat Elena's email:

Democracy is never a given. Each generation has to renew its commitment to it, has to decide whether it is worth the effort. My generation had a number of issues it had to fight for - social equality, civil rights, unnecessary wars: yours will have to take on a move toward autocracy imposed by limiting dissent: your daughter's will probably be around technology's rights and privileges. Democracy is 'of the people' and the people have to decide what the breathe and depth of that democracy will be at any given time. It is a challenging system of government that does not allow for somnambulism if it is to survive. That's why freedom of speech (including blogs) and freedom of the press is so important.

We Need a National Conversation

If this article by Catherine Crier is correct, we desperately need to have a national conversation about what our constitution stands for and how we can allow religious fundamentalists in our country to live the lives they want to live without having them try to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. According to Crier:

Most of them would like to see the United States under biblical law. Comparable to countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, all of which live by Sharia (the strict Islamic code of the Koran), America's right-wing fundamentalists seek a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution. This is no exaggeration—purchase a DVD of either Justice Sunday event, buy a book by one of their ministers, or simply go to one of their web sites. They do not make a secret of it. What's more, they demand that all Americans adhere to their rigid and reactionary beliefs.

The Blog | Catherine Crier: CONTEMPT -- How the Right Is Wronging American Justice | The Huffington Post

Rising Tide of Unease

Maybe I just read the blue sorts of blogs. But I was surprised when otherwise technology focused blog http://www.bubblegeneration.com/ had a long complaint about the current admininstration -- and as with the technology posts you'll find there, it is well articulated. Here is part of the post that is particularly pointed:

You've seen: a vicious terrorist attack (horrible), a war on the wrong country (amazing), the devastation of an American city (unbelievable), systemic corruption at the top (disgusting), the total mismanagement of the country's money, rendering the US a future pauper (almost inconceivable) and now, almost every day, more and more evidence of the kind of cronyism this country hasn't seen since 1929 (stupendous; congratulations should surely be in order).

Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab

Read the rest.

That Isn't Going to Help

As if respect for the United States by the rest of the world hadn't already dropped to an all time low, now it appears that we can legitimately be accused of using chemical weapons:

Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November. But they denied an Italian television news report that the spontaneously flammable material was used against civilians.

AP Wire | 11/15/2005 | Pentagon used white phosphorous in Iraq

This is after the Pentagon had previously condemned the Italian report and stated that our troops had "never used chemical weapons in Iraq." Apparently the denial was based upon a disagreement as to whether White Phosphorus should be designated as a chemical weapon. According to an article in an Italian daily, "...on BBC radio on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Venable said that the US State Department's recent assertion that white phosphorus had not been used in Falluja was based on "poor information" .
He also said that "white phosphorus is a conventional munition. It is not a chemical weapon. It is not outlawed or illegal." He said the US army used the incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases." "However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants," he added .

ANSA.it - News in English - White phosphorus used in Iraq

According to Ansa, an international treaty restricts the use of white phosphorus devices, banning its use against civilian targets -- but the US is not a signatory of this treaty.

I see three patterns here that are troubling -- first there is the use of the "chemical weapon" which we should have been smart enough to avoid. Like the use of terror, this is an indication of a willingness to throw out the conventional rules of behavior which have guided our country up to the current administration, all justified by the "war on terror." As the world's only superpower, and one that has prided itself on being a voice for freedom and democracy, we cannot afford to stop doing what is right, even if it is inconvenient. We should feel a responsibility for setting a good example for the rest of the world.

But the two other patterns are equally disturbing -- as with so many issues that have confronted the Bush administration, there is an attempt at denial based on "bad information" or worse, technical differences in definition. No one in the rest of the world is going to care whether White Phosphorus is officially classified by treaty as a chemical weapon. They can all see the photographs and see the effect of WP and come to their own conclusion. So denying that we have used chemical weapons is a ridiculous statement to make in the face of the evidence.

Which brings us to the last pattern -- why are we (the US) so terrible at crises PR? From the US Government's own website:

In a crisis, the best course of action is to be forthcoming and honest and to do what it takes to facilitate stories. The media are going to write and air stories with or without your help. It's in your best interest to participate in a story — even a negative one — in order to have your position correctly represented. The alternative is for the media to write that a government official "would not respond to our inquiries," which only fuels suspicions and rumors.

A Responsible Press Office

So why can't we follow our own advice?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Favorite Flock Feature

I think my favorite Flock (http://www.flock.com/) feature is the ability to drag and drop text, photos, or the entire web site from a Flock browser window, into the built-in blogger editing and posting tool. Two suggestions, if the flock folks are listening...

(1) When I drag over the page URL, if I have highlighted text in the editing window - make that the link text.

(2) When dragging over text, I like how I can drag to the "Shelf" and then drag from the Shelf to my blog post. And I really like the additional benefit that you bestow on text from the shelf - that you insert the "blockquote" and "citation" HTML tags... but sometimes I want to drag straight from the web page into the blog post, in which case I just get the text... and if I wanted that, copy and paste is really just as easy. Why not insert those blockquote and citation tags when I drag straight from browser window to blog editor?

p.s. I find myself posting blog entries more often now since you guys have made it so easy!

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To Lead: Power and the People

I caught the end of a very compelling essay by Richard Rodriguez, broadcast on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour program yesterday. The full text of the essay is here:


Rodriquez doesn't point his finger at Republicans or at Democrats specifically, but rather at the trend in America for power to have become dissasociated from the people. He writes, "In today's America, men and women are the working class and are paid to fight wars the powerful never risk." And goes on to point out:
The failed Boston cardinal is awarded a palace in Rome; the ex-con has her TV show again. The floodwaters recede to reveal a network of contracts and cronies.

My concern here is not with the falling popularity of Republicans or with the failure of Democrats to say what they stand for beyond an envy of power. My concern here is with the disconnection between power and leadership in America.

Online NewsHour: Richard Rodriguez Essay: To Lead -- November 14, 2005

Why you should try Flock

Flock has a good post listing all of the interesting ways in which they are pushing the browser model forward. Here is what they say:

Here's a list of thirteen things you really should try with Flock. We're bragging, of course, but at the end of the list you'll also find a few warnings about things we're still working on.


Give it a try. http://www.flock.com/

AI Running Google?

Fascinating piece by George Dyson about his visit to Google. I'll spoil the end by repeating his last paragraph:
For 30 years I have been wondering, what indication of its existence might we expect from a true AI? Certainly not any explicit revelation, which might spark a movement to pull the plug. Anomalous accumulation or creation of wealth might be a sign, or an unquenchable thirst for raw information, storage space, and processing cycles, or a concerted attempt to secure an uninterrupted, autonomous power supply. But the real sign, I suspect, would be a circle of cheerful, contented, intellectually and physically well-nourished people surrounding the AI. There wouldn't be any need for True Believers, or the downloading of human brains or anything sinister like that: just a gradual, gentle, pervasive and mutually beneficial contact between us and a growing something else. This remains a non-testable hypothesis, for now. The best description comes from science fiction writer Simon Ings:

"When our machines overtook us, too complex and efficient for us to control, they did it so fast and so smoothly and so usefully, only a fool or a prophet would have dared complain."
But go read the whole thing Edge.org

Monday, November 14, 2005

Amazon's Mechanical Turk

I have been playing with Amazon's new Mechanical Turk and I have to say it is quite intriguing. Awhile ago I had written about CAPTCHAs and mentioned that I had heard about Internet sweatshops overseas in which human beings were employed as a part of computer programs to perform tasks like cracking these visual passcodes... Amazon's Mechanical Turk is a commercialized version of this idea. There is a good write-up of it over on the Programmable Web blog.

So I logged on and tried it out. The current tasks are about linking a photo (taken with some sort of drive-by camera apparatus) to a business name and address. I did about 50 of these matches in half an hour, and they are valued at $0.03 per task. So if all of my tasks are "approved" I made $1.50 -- or about $3.00 an hour. While that is more than I make from doing this blog, it isn't going to pay the mortgage. On the other hand, $3.00 an hour is a princely sum for parts of the developing world -- although in its current form a grasp of English and familiarity with the web are a barrier to entry for the neediest of the unemployed.

All-in-all a fascinating experiment and an indicator of something I think we will see more of before we see less -- that is, humans becoming cogs in computer processing. Think about building an artificial intelligence made up of tens of thousands of people responding to the tasks put to the AI -- humans masquerading as computers masquerading as humans?

Web tedshelton.blogspot.com