We're not quite there

A lot of people ask me the benefits of Twitter, especially in regards to face-to-face interactions. I have a list I can roll off, but often find myself answering "Well, we haven't quite arrived yet." And I think that is true. We aren't there yet. But we are moving closer.

Picture courtesy of Ryan Lane

The question is How do we encourage people to move outside the technology? Here is one idea:

I would like to see a locale-based Twitter system become successful. It would be great to harness the social power of Twitter and refocus it into physical locations. At the very least, it would create more face-to-face interactions. In addition, it could act as a fantastic tourism tool and the equivalent of a text-based two-way radio transceiver.

In a museum, we could discuss and suggest fascinating displays. In a city, we could give traffic alerts. In a concert, we could discuss the music. In an emergency situation, we could quickly organize ourselves. The list goes on.

In reality, Twitter is already being used for all of these purposes. Users tag and filter tweets to listen to a group at a conference or major event. But there are a couple of problems with this approach:

1) I need to somehow know the tag. This isn't always the case, especially in the scenarios I listed above. Even in a more organized situation like a conference, it takes awhile for the members to get on the same page. Tags go through a social darwinistic evolution where only the strong survive. In a less organized situation (a coffee shop), it is downright impossible to find out if anyone in the area is using Twitter.
2) Noise, noise, noise. Twitter is almost too general purpose. There are too many messages flying around. Although users can filter and listen to only a certain batch of tweets, they often don't. I believe that a constraint based system will push innovation within those boundaries.
3) Not sensitive to movement. Right now I'm at the MFA in Boston. But later, I may be at a Radiohead concert. Moving around forces the user to restart the whole process of finding the right tags or search terms.
4) Only good for densely populated areas. What I'm hiking and want to let the people in my vicinity know that there is a bear hunting near one trail. If I am using a Twitter based system, there is no good way to do this. None at all.

It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to create a locale based Twitter system. The technology is already here. The real challenge is making it succeed. Other evices have tried to use bluetooth for similar location communication. As far as I know, the bluetooth features are used sparingly at best. That's why I hope that by piggy-backing onto the wildly successful Twitter network, we might be able to take a second run at this problem.

What are the benefits? A Twitter network that impacts the real world in a deeper way than it already has. I believe it would encourage face-to-face interaction as well as act as a valuable collaboration tool.

Twitter has made a remarkable impact on news networks, media, and emergency communication systems. But it isn't quite there. This idea may help, but it won't solve everything. We need to continue to make it a priority to push the technology outward into our everyday lives.


Understanding Technology Policy

With an Obama administration coming right on the heels of the New Year, there is a lot of technology policy on the table you should know about. Here are a couple of interesting reads:

Weighing a Broadband Stimulus Plan

A clip: "In today's deep recession, digital age advocates are trying to persuade President-elect Barack Obama to put billions into a nationwide broadband build-out as part of his planned economic stimulus package ... But how do we make sure that the billions aren't spent creating the 21st century equivalent of ditches to nowhere?"

A little background: The United States is embarrassingly behind other tech-savvy nations in broadband adoption. To over-generalize the situation, our internet is slower, more expensive, and less available than many countries in the world. If you are interested, The Internet Technology & Innovation Foundation has a separate article on the issue.

(click picture for a larger view)

Should Computer Science be Part of a K-12 Education?

A clip: "Computing education benefits all students, not just those interested in pursuing computer science or information technology careers," said Bobby Schnabel, chair of ACM's Education Policy Committee (EPC). "But students often do not have many opportunities to engage in rigorous computer science study at the K-12 level," said Schnabel, dean of the Indiana University School of Informatics. "To meet the nation's educational and professional needs in the face of insufficient numbers of undergraduates majoring in computer science, we need to work harder to increase interest at the K-12 level, and to expand the pipeline supplying the necessary workforce for an information-based economy."

A little background: The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is recommending that Obama insert Computer Science into basic K-12 Education. The ACM is "the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society." Anyone who does anything related to computing is probably part of this organization (including me). I tend agree with them, as CS encourages abstract thinking and problem-solving skills that are difficult for children to develop at the elementary level. Also, even a cursory knowledge of programming gives enormous power to students later on in their education. Anyways, read the article and decide for yourself. It probably won't be the last you hear of it.

Business Time

I have not chatted with you in awhile. For those of you who keep tabs on my writing, I apologize. My notebook is filled with two-sentence thoughts and blurbs, but none of them have been flushed out enough to write a full article. Lets get some coffee sometime. Maybe that will make up for it.

photo by Leonard Cillo

On that note, I'd like to change the pace of this place a bit. In the past, I've felt compelled (for no good reason) to write at least three, lengthy paragraphs before pushing the post button. Well, that is not working. And to be honest, that approach undermines some of my intentions for this space. I don't mean this to be a space where readers are drowned in one more over-opinionated voice. If you want that, turn on the news. Instead, this should be a place where thoughts and ideas, all of which may be raw and unpolished, can be gleaned and formed by someone else.

This isn't my job and I don't want to pretend like I hold authoritative views in the subject matter.

Some things to look forward to:
- Short, "wouldn't it be nice" technology ideas
- Lists of interesting articles I've been reading
- Launching pads to larger discussions
- The same sort of articles as before.

Have a wonderful Christmas season. Cheers!


How We've Created a Culture Where Kids Need Facebook.

Generation Y/Z needs Facebook.

You've read countless articles and press releases bemoaning the appeal of virtual networks to adolescent youth. We wonder why they communicate leaving Facebook messages instead of long conversations over campfires. We struggle to see the appeal of virtual networks over pickup baseball games in crackling autumn wheather. Our knee-jerk reaction is to revert back to the habits of every generation before us and vomit a phrase like "back when I was a kid," or launch into nostalgia saturated stories of running around the neighborhood, cliff jumping, and kissing girls under bleachers. 

photo by lunawhimsy

People are absolutely right when they say "back when I was a kid," but it isn't the kids that have changed. It's the world around them. Here are four reasons why "get out of the house and play" just doesn't work anymore. 

1. Kids don't have cars. This one isn't too revolutionary. In fact, there has never been a generation of Americans who had cars at 13 years old. So what's the difference? Most Americans don't live in tight-knit communities anymore. I grew up in suburbia, was voted "Most Personable" of my high school class, but was only within walking distance of a handful of my friends. "Best friends" aren't necessarily defined by locale anymore. Most teens can't see their friends without car rides, or long bike rides (but ....).
2. Parents don't trust the world. The last 50 years has seen an increase in one of the most terrible epidemics of American society - freakishly over-protective parents. Don't go anywhere far. Don't go anywhere alone. Don't go anywhere late. Don't go anywhere early. Don't go anywhere without phone numbers. Don't go anywhere without supervision. Don't go anywhere without knee-pads, a helmet, and protective entourage. Half of our American teenagers are practically under house-arrest. 
3. The world doesn't trust teenagers. Name a place where all the local teenagers hang out. Nope. Nope. Well, they used to go there. The reality is that many businesses have banned tribal packs of hormones from their premises. The mall used to be a popular gathering place, but apparently the collective whole of Generation Y is a lying, rude, shop-lifting punk. Oh, and those tattoos don't mesh well with other paying customers. By all measures, I was a good kid in high school, and I can still remember numerous "get out of here" chats with local police. 
4. Many teens are over-scheduled. What is high-school for? I'll tell you what it's for - leading 15 clubs, participating in 3 varsity sports, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and serving the community for 20 hours a week. That way you can go to a good college and have a good life (affording college may be the real issue here). Teens are increasingly over-committed. It is near impossible to coordinate the chaos of 10 conflicting schedules. 

What does this all mean? 
So far, we've concluded that teenagers don't have a place to go, a way to get there, or even time to spend there. If by some minor miracle they have all three of those requirements, they may not be allowed to go. But one thing hasn't changed - teenagers still desire community. If I did an informal poll, I woudn't be surprised to see it fall somewhere between ending poverty and establishing world peace. 

So where can teens go to form some semblance of community that can be controlled, that isn't in a physical location, that is away from disapproving adults, and that can be done in short 10 minute packages?

Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. Social Media. 

I'm not saying it's good. I'm not saying it's bad. In fact, there are plenty of teenagers who can go anywhere and do anything, and still spend absurd amounts of time on Facebook. I'm just saying that our culture hasn't created messed up teenagers (at least not more messed up than any other generation), it has created a messed up environment that they live in. The teenagers are simply adapting in the only way they know how. 

[ Note: The reasons in this article are roughly based on a talk by danah boyd. The opinionated commentary is all my fault. Don't blame her. danah has fantastic things to say about Web2.0 and kids. Go read some of her stuff ] 


Undergraduate Street-Smarts (Part 1)

Your professors won't make you succeed, even if you do everything they tell you to. They will give you tools, give you lectures, and give you knowledge, but it isn't enough. I've collected some of the most important things I've done/wish I had done during my undergraduate years. 
Don't just be an academic. Have academic street smarts.

1. Join your professional association.

For CS students, join the ACM - something you can do the first day of college. It may cost you a few bucks, but it's worth it.

Why? Access to tremendous resources, the opportunity to keep a watchful eye on your field, and a resume check mark which shows that you engage in your field. It may also give you a heads up for interesting speeches and conference. More on that later.

2. Make a "net presence" for yourself.

Sadly, this revelation came to me only after my graduation. Create a Twitter account and find people to follow in your field. Create a LinkedIn account and start making connections. Create a blog. Even if you update it once a week, write a paragraph about what you are thinking about.

Why Twitter? Think of Twitter as a more productive instant message. If you follow the right people you a) get up to the minute updates in your field (or points of interest) and b) are suddenly included in a network with "all the right people." Bonus: There are lots of Twitter gatherings at restaurants that can give you an opportunity to get face time with influential people (at least, more influential than you). Networking, networking, networking. 

Why LinkedIn? LinkedIn is a professional Facebook. There aren't wall messages, there are recommendations. You don't post music, you post your resume. Even more crucial, important people use LinkedIn, not just your college buddies. More networking, more connections = good.

Why Blog? Since I've started blogging, not only has it increased my awareness in the field, but it has made me more articulate when I speak about issues that are relevant to my area of study. Need another good reason? Many top-notch graduate schools don't even have time to interview you. Their only exposure comes through your application. If you have a blog, you create an opportunity for graduate schools to hear more of what you have to say. I found that some applications didn't cater to my strengths at all. It is good to have a place that does.

Overall Why? If I say the name "Barack Obama", you know who it is. Why? It is because his face, his words, and his opinions are everywhere. The names you know are the names you see. Expand your network and give yourself a soap box to stand on. Even if think you don't have anything important to share, start building connections for when you do. I have been fully engaged with social media for only a couple months, but Googling Evan Peck now lays me claimto 6 of the top 8 entries on the results list. Not bad. Once you have found something you really want to say, you'll want that public arena, so start building it now.

3. Take Some Writing Courses
I don't care what you do. Your major doesn't matter. Learn to write well. The better you write, the more people pay attention. Take a poetry class. Take a fiction class. Take a non-fiction class.

Why? As a computer science graduate student, surveying the writing proficiency in the field is pathetic. It's one thing to write so that your colleagues understand it (and sadly, this is enough of a challenge for many people), it is another to write so that it is accessible to the larger public. If 1,000 people are excited about an idea, it moves a lot quicker than if the 10 people in your class think it's cool. To put it simply: Ideas don't go anywhere if they aren't communicated well. If you want to go to grad school, you'll be writing journal articles. As I mentioned ealier, a graduate school's only exposure to you as a person comes through your personal statement. You'd better be capable of making it good. 

4. Learn Basic Design Principles.
I cannot stress this enough. Don't be the guy who uses Vegas colors. Don't be the guy who uses Comic Sans in his papers. If you can take a class, fantastic. If not, just take some time to look over design portfolios online. Try to learn a little about typography.
Focus on simplicity.

Why? It is downright amazing how great ideas can be sunk by terrible design. Personally, it's much harder for me to respect an application if it has a poor visual design, even if it is functionally perfect. We are visually inclined. That's why we like sunsets and deep canyons. It's why attractive politicians do better than unattractive ones (sad, but true). So design well, or at least, make friends that can design well.

5. Present Well. Present Often.
Present every chance you get. If you are in collaborative projects, offer to be the speaker. Create lots of PowerPoint presentations. Take a public speaking class. Present in comfortable situations, then present in uncomfortable situations. Present on things you know about and present on things you know absolutely nothing about. 

Why? You should present well for many of the same reasons you should write well. You become exponentially more valuable if you a strong presenter. I've seen whole hordes of people get excited by terrible ideas that were presented brilliantly. Presenting well also means that you get to meet more people - you get to go to more conferences, you get more face time in front of key individuals, and you can even excite people outside of your field's sphere of influence. Take the opportunity to hone those skills now, when presentations in front of 15 half-awake students don't matter. Experiment a bit and see what works. 

Hope you enjoyed the post. If you have any thoughts of your own, let me know.


Poetry in Technology

Let's continue to be innovative in the way we present our art.

A couple of hours ago, I was digging around some of the poetry I wrote for an undergraduate class. There was one file that stuck out - David and I are not so different. Is it my best work? No. It was a result of one blistering hour at Panera - free-form, loosely structured, and stream-of-conscious writing at it's best.

But I remember wishing that the line-breaks would be more prominent. I wanted a breath between words, or some way to tell my reader "sit on these awhile". I was never satisfied with the result.

Tonight, I tried something different. I took the same poem and tossed it in PowerPoint. I translated stanzas into different slides. I tore out subtle pauses and made them visually evident. I tried not to mess with the typography and design too much, but you'll see that there were a couple of times where I just couldn't help myself. The point of this exercise is less a visual experience and more an experiment of pacing.

So sit back and enjoy.
(Note: Please use full-screen mode. I think it is much more immersive)

How did it work for you?


Get Unplugged

There are short sentences outside of Twitter.
There are people outside of YouTube.
There are LOLs that shake bellies.
There are fights outside CAPS.
There are favorites without bookmarks.
There are friends outside Facebook.

There is beauty outside. Just outside.


Obama on Science

It's time to take a break from questioning pregnant 17 year olds, fuming over Focus on the Family prayers for political intervention, and wondering whether Alaska should really count as being part of the United States. Believe it or not, some of the candidates have something to say. Even more surprising, it won't ever hit tabloids (which makes America wonder whether it is really something worth saying at all).

Cynicism aside, Barack Obama recently responded to "The Top 14 Science Questions Facing America". These questions were narrowed down from a pool of 3,400 and cover the scientific landscape quite well. Despite being a well-known muslim, elitist terrorist who has a 63% chance of transforming into the anti-Christ (which could happen at any mom
ent), I appreciate the time Senator Obama spent to respond to these questions. 

For your reading pleasure, I've taken the questions which I believe are most relevant to this blog, and reposted them - questions concerning technology, education, and research. I'd encourage you to take some time to read all of Barack's responses. I've long believed that science will dictate the moral and ethical future of our nation. To be fair, I will also post McCain's thoughts once he responds to the questions. 


photo by Beth Can

(Note: All text comes from ScienceDebate2008 website and this article)

1. Innovation. Science and technology have been responsible for half of the growth of the American economy since WWII. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will you support to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation?

Ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in science and technology will be a central priority for my administration. Our talent for innovation is still the envy of the world, but we face unprecedented challenges that demand new approaches. For example, the U.S. annually imports $53 billion more in advanced technology products than we export. China is now the world’s number one high technology exporter. This competitive situation may only worsen over time because the number of U.S. students pursuing technical careers is declining. The U.S. ranks 17th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; we were in third place thirty years ago.

My administration will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade. We will increase research grants for early-career researchers to keep young scientists entering these fields. We will increase support for high-risk, high-payoff research portfolios at our science agencies. And we will invest in the breakthrough research we need to meet our energy challenges and to transform our defense programs. 

A vigorous research and development program depends on encouraging talented people to enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and giving them the support they need to reach their potential. My administration will work to guarantee to students access to strong science curriculum at all grade levels so they graduate knowing how science works – using hands-on, IT-enhanced education. As president, I will launch a Service Scholarship program that pays undergraduate or graduate teaching education costs for those who commit to teaching in a high-need school, and I will prioritize math and science teachers.  Additionally, my proposal to create Teacher Residency Academies will also add 30,000 new teachers to high-need schools – training thousands of science and math teachers. I will also expand access to higher education, work to draw more of these students into science and engineering, and increase National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate fellowships. My proposals for providing broadband Internet connections for all Americans across the country will help ensure that more students are able to 
bolster their STEM achievement.   

Progress in science and technology must be backed with programs ensuring that U.S. businesses have strong incentives to convert advances quickly into new business opportunities and jobs. To do this, my administration will make the R&D tax credit permanent. 

4. Education.  A comparison of 15-year-olds in 30 wealthy nations found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 17th, while average U.S. math scores ranked 24th.  What role do you think the federal government should play in preparing K-12 students for the science and technology driven 21st Century?
All American citizens need high quality STEM education that inspires them to know more about the world around them, engages them in exploring challenging questions, and involves them in high quality intellectual work. STEM education is no longer only for those pursuing STEM careers; it should enable all citizens to solve problems, collaborate, weigh evidence, and communicate ideas. I will work to ensure that all Americans, including those in traditionally underrepresented groups, have the knowledge and skills they need to engage in society, innovate in our world, and compete in the global economy. 

I will support research to understand the strategies and mechanisms that bring lasting improvements to STEM education and ensure that promising practices are widely shared. This includes encouraging the development of cutting edge STEM instructional materials and technologies, and working with educators to ensure that assessments measure the range of knowledge and skills needed for the 21st Century. I will bring coherency to STEM education by increasing coordination of federal STEM education programs and facilitating cooperation among state efforts. I recently introduced the "Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Act of 2008" that would establish a STEM Education Committee within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to coordinate the efforts of federal agencies engaged in STEM education, consolidate the STEM education initiatives that exist within the Department of Education under the direction of an Office of STEM Education, and create a State Consortium for STEM Education. These reforms will strengthen interagency coordination at the federal level, encourage collaboration on common content standards and assessments for STEM education at the state and local levels, and provide a mechanism for sharing the latest innovations and practices in STEM education with educators. I also recently sponsored an amendment, which became law, to the America Competes Act that established a competitive state grant program to support summer learning opportunities with curricula that emphasize mathematics and problem solving. 

My education plan is built on the recognition that teachers play a critical role in student learning and achievement. My administration will work closely with states and local communities to ensure that we recruit math and science graduates to the teaching profession. Through Teacher Service Scholarships, a Teacher Residency Program, and Career Ladders, I will transform the teaching profession from one that has too many underpaid and insufficiently qualified teachers to one that attracts the best STEM teaching talent for our schools. 

We cannot strengthen STEM education without addressing the broader challenges of improving American education and other priority issues. In addition to a focus on high quality teachers, my comprehensive plan addresses the needs of our most at-risk children, focuses on strong school leaders, and enlists parent and community support. My proposals for a comprehensive “zero to five” program will ensure that children enter school ready to learn. And when they finish school, I will make sure that through the new $4,000 American Opportunity Tax Credit, they will have access to affordable higher education that will provide them with the science fluency they need to be leaders in STEM fields and across broad sectors of our society.

photo by Brett Taylor

5. National Security.  Science and technology are at the core of national security like never before.  What is your view of how science and technology can best be used to ensure national security and where should we put our focus?
Technology leadership is key to our national security. It’s essential to create a coherent new defense technology strategy to meet the kinds of threats we may face—asymmetric conflicts, urban operations, peacekeeping missions, and cyber, bio, and proliferation threats, as well as new kinds of symmetric threats. 

When Sputnik was launched in 1957, President Eisenhower used the event as a call to arms for Americans to help secure our country and to increase the number of students studying math and science via the National Defense Education Act. That educational base not only improved our national security and space programs but also led to our economic growth and innovation over the second half of the century. Our nation is again hearing a threatening “ping” in the distance, this time not from a single satellite in space but instead from threats that range from asymmetric conflicts to cyber attacks, biological terror and nuclear proliferation. I will lead the nation to be prepared to meet this 21st- century challenge by investing again in math and science education, which is vital to protecting our national security and our competitiveness. 

As president I will also ensure that our defense, homeland security, and intelligence agencies have the strong research leadership needed to revitalize our defense research activities and achieve breakthrough science that can be quickly converted into new capabilities for our security. 

This year, I was encouraged to see the Department of Defense (DoD) requested a sharp increase in the basic research budget for breakthrough technologies. More is needed. My administration will put basic defense research on a path to double and will assure strong funding for investments in DoD’s applied research programs. We will enhance the connections between defense researchers and their war-fighting counterparts. And, we will strengthen defense research management so that our most innovative minds are working on our most pressing defense problems. A strong research program can also lower procurement costs by reducing technical risks and increasing reliability and performance. Renewing DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) will be a key part of this strategy.

My administration will build a strong and more productive research program in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that will include critical work on cyber and bio security. Because existing programs have been plagued by management problems, we will bring a renewal of talent, organization, and focus, seeking support from our universities, companies, and labs. Another critical role for R&D in national security is energy. Our petroleum dependence continually threatens our security, and my proposals for accelerating new alternative energy technologies will be an important part of my national security R&D agenda. 

Finally, we will act to reverse the erosion of the U.S. manufacturing base - which could jeopardize our technical superiority. We need to continue to develop the finest defense systems in the world. But, we are losing domestic production capability for critical defense components and systems. I will implement the recommendations of the Defense Science Board on defense manufacturing, strengthen efforts at DoD’s Manufacturing Technology program, and invest in innovative manufacturing sciences and processes to cut manufacturing costs and increase efficiency.

12. Scientific Integrity. Many government scientists report political interference in their job.  Is it acceptable for elected officials to hold back or alter scientific reports if they conflict with their own views, and how will you balance scientific information with politics and personal beliefs in your decision-making?
Scientific and technological information is of growing importance to a range of issues. I believe such information must be expert and uncolored by ideology.  

I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best- available, scientifically-valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees. More broadly, I am committed to creating a transparent and connected democracy, using cutting-edge technologies to provide a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens. Policies must be determined using a process that builds on the long tradition of open debate that has characterized progress in science, including review by individuals who might bring new information or contrasting views. I have already established an impressive team of science advisors, including several Nobel Laureates, who are helping me to shape a robust science agenda for my administration.  

In addition I will: 

• Appoint individuals with strong science and technology backgrounds and unquestioned reputations for integrity and objectivity to the growing number of senior management positions where decisions must incorporate science and technology advice. These positions will be filled promptly with ethical, highly qualified individuals on a non-partisan basis;
• Establish the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will lead an interagency effort on best-in-class technologies, sharing of best practices, and safeguarding of our networks;
• Strengthen the role of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) by appointing experts who are charged to provide independent advice on critical issues of science and technology. The PCAST will once again be advisory to the president; and
• Restore the science integrity of government and restore transparency of decision- making by issuing an Executive Order establishing clear guidelines for the review and release of government publications, guaranteeing that results are released in a timely manner and not distorted by the ideological biases of political appointees. I will strengthen protection for “whistle blowers” who report abuses of these processes.

13. Research. For many years, Congress has recognized the importance of science and engineering research to realizing our national goals.  Given that the next Congress will likely face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in basic research in upcoming budgets?
Federally supported basic research, aimed at understanding many features of nature— from the size of the universe to subatomic particles, from the chemical reactions that support a living cell to interactions that sustain ecosystems—has been an essential feature of American life for over fifty years. While the outcomes of specific projects are never predictable, basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge that has fueled important developments in fields ranging from telecommunications to medicine, yielding remarkable rates of economic return and ensuring American leadership in industry, military power, and higher education. I believe that continued investment in fundamental research is essential for ensuring healthier lives, better sources of energy, superior military capacity, and high-wage jobs for our nation’s future. 

Yet, today, we are clearly under-investing in research across the spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines. Federal support for the physical sciences and engineering has been declining as a fraction of GDP for decades, and, after a period of growth of the life sciences, the NIH budget has been steadily losing buying power for the past six years. As a result, our science agencies are often able to support no more than one in ten proposals that they receive, arresting the careers of our young scientists and blocking our ability to pursue many remarkable recent advances. Furthermore, in this environment, scientists are less likely to pursue the risky research that may lead to the most important breakthroughs. Finally, we are reducing support for science at a time when many other nations are increasing it, a situation that already threatens our leadership in many critical areas of science. 

This situation is unacceptable. As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade. 

Sustained and predictable increases in research funding will allow the United States to accomplish a great deal. First, we can expand the frontiers of human knowledge. Second, we can provide greater support for high-risk, high-return research and for young scientists at the beginning of their careers. Third, we can harness science and technology to address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century: energy, health, food and water, national security, information technology, and manufacturing capacity.


Hurricane Gustav: If they can't do it, we will.

UPDATE (9.2.2008): ABC News just wrote an article about using social media as an emergency tool. It looks like the Gustav efforts really helped some people out. Good to hear.

Katrina. Gustav.

Gustav. Katrina.

photo by Biguana

The names are intertwined in a morbid marriage of past and future. Katrina: the natural horror which clawed at the bare nervous system of Louisiana. A failure to prepare, a failure to react. And then there is Gustav, looming over the coastal state with an air that smacks of inevitability.

If you want to be encouraged, visit Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, Get Involved with Gustav Online Volunteer Efforts. It's a breath of fresh air, and a wonderful example of social media coordinating it's own disaster relief efforts.


Talk Together. Talk Loud. Talk About Poverty.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, maybe it doesn't make a sound. But on October 15, 2008, over 20,000 trees are falling, and they plan to make a whole lot of people notice.

It's Blog Action Day 2008. And this is what it's all about ...

Can it make a difference? I think so.

In an interview the other day, I shared my worries about the effect technology has on the poor. Does it further the divide between the haves and have-nots? Does technology make those who don't have the opportunity to use it even weaker in a world that is increasingly dependent on it? Or do we celebrate the raised awareness? Do we celebrate that people can and do raise more money than ever because of that raised awareness? Do we celebrate that more people are taking an active role against poverty largely because of the connections and resources that technology has given them?

Talking won't solve everything. But it will get people involved. Here's a quick story:

In 2004, my friend (let's call him Jason) takes an evening trip to study in Boston, walking with noise-canceling headphones in the Fenway area. Jason has no clue that the Boston Red Sox are hosting the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. And to be fair, Jason doesn't really care. He has never liked baseball. Never cared about the Red Sox. Doesn't notice the New York Yankees. That is, Jason doesn't notice until he hears a sudden swell of noise. The noise rises over the Boston streets and cuts through the climax of "Karma Police" by Radiohead. Puzzled, he takes off his headphones and becomes engulfed by the sound of a David Ortiz home run, or a Dave Roberts stolen base off Mariano Rivera. 30,000 fans yelling. 30,000 fans screaming. The sound of 30,000 people happier than they've been in weeks.

"I love baseball." That's what Jason told me the next day. He was preaching to the choir, but that sure didn't help with my confusion. "I'm still not sure about the game, but anything that gets that many people that excited and that passionate, I have to love."

So pass on the word and yell a whole lot. Get people excited. Maybe, just maybe, the right ones will listen.


Social Media for Social Change

One of my primarily goals for techINcolor is to highlight efforts that use technology to make a tangible difference in the world - those rare instances where conversation transforms into action. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a Boston-centered event: Social Media for Social Change. The event, organized by Gradon Tripp, "was born of the idea that the social media community, these 'agents of change' can get together for one night, to support one cause."

Social Media for Social Change will tentatively take place on Friday, October 10th, at the Harvard Club.

Stop Domestic Violence. Stop Sexual Assault.
All proceeds of Social Media for Social Change will benefit the Jane Doe, Inc.
Here is their mission statement:
Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence brings together organizations and people committed to ending domestic violence and sexual assault. We create social change by addressing the root causes of this violence, and promote justice, safety and healing for survivors. JDI advocates for responsive public policy, promotes collaboration, raises public awareness, and supports our member organizations to provide comprehensive prevention and intervention services. We are guided by the voices of survivors.
A WBUR story that ran just this morning about Jane Doe, Inc., reported that "there was an almost three-fold increase in domestic violence deaths in the state between 2005 and 2007." Personally, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who doesn't know a story of how domestic violence has impacted someone they love. I have friends who have been abused, friends parents who have been abused, and friends who have been deeply impacted by the scars of others who have been abused. It is an issue that needs attention and action.

What can I do?
Public awareness and public action means public change. Social Media for Social Change is an event that can have a real impact on efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault in Massachusetts. Even more important, it can represent a step in the right direction for technology influencing change, not just in violence, but in anything we think needs changing - hunger, the sex trade, poverty, etc. Social Media for Social Change is just as much about our use of technology as it is about our desire to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

So save the date. Put it in your Facebook status. Post it on a blog. Tweet it on Twitter. Text it to a friend. Write about it in your school newspaper. If you can't attend, tell someone who can. Awareness will impact this event just as profoundly as attendance.

Social Media for Social Change.
The Harvard Club.
October 10th, 2008.
(I'll post more information as it becomes available)


The colors of techINcolor.

This entry should have many names: "Why I blog" or "What I believe, worry about, hope, and fear" are just a couple. Just know this: It will change. I'm always reforming, always changing, always adding, deleting, undoing, and redoing my beliefs. So if you like this version, you should save it somewhere else. I can't promise it will be the same tomorrow, or even an hour from now. But it is probably my most important entry. It is what echoes in my mind when I think, leaks out my mouth when I speak, and bleeds through my fingertips when I write.

photo by ishrona
My colors:
  • I believe, above all, that the internet is "not just about information. It is about linking people; linking people in ways we've never seen linked before."
  • I am frustrated by the perception that technology cheapens relationships, instead of enhancing them. I am frustrated by services that give truth to that.
  • I worry that technology deepens the plight of the poor; making those who don't have it even more helpless, while those that do, more connected and therefore, more powerful.
  • I believe that technology is a powerful equalizer for those that do have it. Anyone can network with anyone. Anyone can have a voice. Anyone can be heard.
  • I struggle with the tension between providing contextual relationships and preserving privacy.
  • I wonder how we can be authentic, vulnerable, and still safe. I believe that if we take the term "community" seriously, then we need to be more vulnerable. But we cannot be careless.
  • I believe that design needs to risk innovation over intuition and familiarity. We can do better than the mouse. We can do better than the keyboard.
  • I believe that social media can change the world for the better.
  • I also believe we need to discover new, innovative ways to turn conversation into action. Ideals are cheap if they are not based in reality. We need concrete plans to provide a foundation for our optimism.
  • I believe that we have not yet begun to harness the ingenuity of the general public. I believe that no action should go wasted. I believe that every action can be redirected towards meaningful problems, either through human computation, volunteer computing, or other clever methods.
  • I believe that technology will sculpt the world's moral and ethical future.
  • I worry that the perceived inaccessibility of science will leave the vocal majority on the sidelines, as a small contingency of men in white lab coats dictate that future.
  • I worry that we don't understand how much we are affected by technology, and how much more we will continue to be affected by it. I worry that our leaders who do not actively participate in science and technology will be confronted by deep problems in which they have no basis of understanding.
  • I believe that we need to seriously consider the ramifications of our technology before the problems present themselves. I worry that if we don't, the consequences of our carelessness will be terrible.
  • I am optimistic, but wary.
  • I do not have many answers.
  • I do think we can do better.
If you have your own thoughts, additions, disagreements, etc. I'd love to hear them. Leave them in the comments, email me, twitter me, or smoke signal me. Although these are my own thoughts, I think that in some ways, they belong to everyone.


YouTube is Really about Us. All of Us.

I usually don't simply repost an entry. I like to add my own thoughts and my own opinions - add my own coloring to the piece. But for once, here is something that deserves to be by itself.

It's a long watch, but if you've ever wondered "What's the point of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?" or "Where are we really going online?" please block out an hour of your time. If I was a professor, it would be mandatory. But I'm not. All I can do is hope you stick with me. So whether you're a longtime internet enthusiast or just want to know what it's all about, go pop a bag of popcorn, get comfy on the couch, and enjoy.

Credit goes to Liz Strauss and her wonderful blog for allowing me to find this gem.


Why Twitter is Good and Instant Message is Evil

Picture by Brian Solis

What is good? What is evil?
The first question you should be asking is "What hodge-podge morality scale are you working on?" It's a good question. It's the type of question that philosophers often ponder during their prolonged morning showers (which, coincidentally enough, is where I conjured up this article). There are a lot of different directions I could go - looking at how the company runs, evaluating privacy policies, considering whether company programmers drink Fair Trade coffee, etc.

I'm basing my thoughts on one question: Does the technology serve our lives, or do our lives serve the technology? Another way of phrasing this is "does the technology lead to more opportunities in the 'real world', or does it increase our dependencies on the technology?" That is my barometer.

Why Instant Message is Evil
It's pretty simple, really. Just consider the instant messaging scenarios that cause people to shake their heads in disgust. The longer a conversation that takes place on IM, the more you start to realize that it could be had elsewhere - in a place with more context. Conversation without context leads to misunderstandings. Or even worse, intentional misrepresentations. The times when instant message has been beneficial to me have been the times when I've used it more as a "leave me a message" service, or a "let's meet-up at x time" service. Let me know when we're having lunch. Let me know if you got home safely. Those uses are good. Unfortunately, it often isn't used that way.

Good Example:

ilikeSawx: We need to talk. Can you meet at Denny's at 11am?
ThisIsNotMe: Sure.
ilikeSawx: Great. I'll see you then.

Bad Example:

ilikeSawx: We need to talk.
ThisIsNotMe:Okay, what do you want to talk about?
ilikeSawx: I have been holding back pent up feelings for you for years. I know you don't want a relationship with a Red Sox fan, but .... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

IM lacks context. No voice inflection. No body language. Even in a good conversation, you're probably only getting part of the picture. And if you're having too many "good conversations", there is the danger that it is becoming a crutch - something that hinders your ability to communicate face-to-face instead of acting as a catalyst to encourage it. We end up serving the technology.

Why Twitter is Good
Twitter does not give us voice inflection. Twitter does not give us body language. So why is it better? What prevents it from falling into the same pit as instant message?

Twitter's character limit keeps us from inappropriate communication
Twitter only gives you 140 characters. If you think you can forge intimate relationships, or hold intense, well-thought political debates in 140 characters then you live a much simpler life than I do. Sure, you could leave 15 consecutive messages, but no one will listen to you. They will pass you off as annoying at best. More than likely, they will defriend you.

There have been times where Twitter gives us emotional glimpses into someone's life. Sure. But it's never a full explanation. Twitter doesn't allow it. In fact, those glimpses makes me want to pick up the phone and call the person. They make me want to learn more. But I can't through Twitter (thankfully). If I wan't to learn more, I need to take my communication to a different arena.

Twitter is largely a public forum. People don't like being naked.
I can follow whoever I want on Twitter. I also must realize that anyone who wants to follow me, can. If I want to get into a bloody brawl with an ex-girlfriend, everyone who will know. Everyone. Once again, this prevents us from having those sort of conversations through Twitter. Last week, at SocialMediaCamp Boston, the following analogy was made (courtesty of Erica O'Grady):

Twitter brings us back to the 1930s in smalltown America. Then, if you wanted to find out who was the best butcher in town, you'd just ask around. People would tell you Tom has great cuts of meat, while Steve pumps his with steroids.

Twitter allows the us to make public statements like "hey, check this out" or "let's meet here" or "watch out for . . ."
While Twitter is a community, it is a community whose foundation isn't on Twitter. The foundation is where its messages point to.

So all in all . . .
To be fair, IM can be used appropriately. Many people do. Twitter can be horribly abused. Many people do. People will use and abuse any technology that comes out. There are no exceptions. But that doesn't prevent us from trying to design technology that encourages real interactions - that gets a group of people together over a cup of coffee. Twitter does it well. IM does it terribly. So please, socialize with care.


Quotations: Richard Hugo

"If you feel pressure to say what you know others want to hear and don't have enough devil in you to surprise them, shut up."
[Richard Hugo, Triggering Town]

Social Media, Netwebbing, and Ephiphanies

"Anybody who is anybody has a blog now." That's what I told my girlfriend last week, trying to justify my own plunge into the blogging world. But it's about more than that. It's about meaningful dialogue. It's about connecting with the right people. It's about networking without the work. In fact, let's change the terminology all together. Let's call it netwebbing.

I've kept an eye on and loosely participated in social media (Facebook, blogging, Twitter, etc.), but I've never seriously considered its implications as a tool. Facebook feels like "just for fun." Blogging is often viewed as nothing but a public diary. And I've never really been around anyone who got excited about Twitter.

That all changed last Monday when I attended SocialMediaCamp Boston. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for a couple of hours, but that was all I needed. Erica O'Grady, you had me at Tweet. More about Social Media and why I think it's important later, but I'll leave you some items to stare at in the mean time. Think of this as a teaser. Just like a good Hardy Boys novel.

The Definition (from wikipedia)
"Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and "building" of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories, and understandings."

Putting a Tie on Zorro
I think that one perception of Social Media among my friends is that it some sort of out-of-control, grammatically challenged, vigilante that plays by its own rules and serves as a ridiculous representation of reality (imagine your neighbor patrolling the streets at night in a Batman suit constructed entirely of body paint). I'd like to argue with you, but you do have some valid points. For you, I'd recommend checking out a post by Social Media Club called "4 Missions, 4 Projects: Social Media Club Gets to Work." To summarize, here is a list of where they are concentrating their effort:
  1. Expand Media Literacy
  2. Share Lessons Learned Among Practitioners
  3. Encourage Adoption of Industry Standards
  4. Promote Ethical Practices through Discussion and Actions

G-r-r-r-reat Resources
I hope you enjoyed the Frosted Flakes reference. Anyways, Chris Brogan has a fantastic post that contains 20 Free eBooks you can dig your heels into. Granted, if you're not familiar with social media, this may not be the best place to start, but I found it interesting. That's what matters, isn't it? Either way, take a look at Chris' blog in general. He posts a lot of good stuff.

Finally, go look at some of my links on the right under "Colorful Friends". Mashable is the king of social media news and I've already plugged Social Media Club. Finally, even though TechCrunch isn't focused on social media, the way the tech world has gone recently, half of their articles end up having some sort of connection to the topic.

Enjoy and Cheers!


Chalk this one up to Mr. Gates

Interesting post by Dwight Silverman over at the Houston Chronicle about the increasing price discrepancies between Macs and PCs. It turns out that the average Mac laptop is nearly twice as much as the average PC notebook.

With the average tuition cost skyrocketing all across the country and laptops becoming more and more important to the success of students (especially in regards to networking), I have to wonder what sort of implications this could have on the digital divide.


Typography Tangent of a Crazy Mind

Why I'm good at packing cars.
Something you should know about me - I move things in my head. I can move a desk from four inches away from the east wall to two feet from the corner of the south wall. I move picture frames to different locations, change the angles of walls, and spin chairs in my head. Occasionally, if I am walking in a neighborhood, I spin houses. If I've never seen the back, my mind just fills in the blanks, creating what it think the back of the house should look like - porches, ivy, and all. Sometimes I can control it, sometimes I can't. That's just the way I am.

The setting of insanity.
So last Monday, as I was sitting on a 3 1/2 hour flight from Charlotte to Denver, I began to spin things. Unfortunately, nothing in the plane was interesting enough. After all, this was my second flight of the day, and I was sick of anything that lives in the air or charges $5 for a can of potato chips (not to mention $15 for my first checked bag). I tried reading Dostoevsky, but because of my exhaustion, my mind was hardly ready to wrestle with 12 concurrent characters, each with multiple nicknames. That's when I started moving letters. I moved them left and right, flipped them around, and then turned them upside down until my mind had turned into some perverted word crossword puzzle of chaos.

Anyways, here is a peak into my mile-high revelations (all my own terminology):

Mirror words.
Mirror words are words that have a line of symmetry right down the middle. You can fold the first half of the word onto the second half and have it line up perfectly. Mirror words are palindromes on steroids, and there are very very few of them (unlike MLB).

Some examples of mirror words are toot, bud, and mom (this is based on the way I write the letters, and may vary depending on the font).

Letter words must be composed of letters that have a mirror reflection.
q and p can be mirrored with each other, depending on the writer's style.
b and d can almost always be mirrored with each other.

Letters that have a vertical line of symmetry themselves:
lowercase: i l m o t u v w x
uppercase: A H I M O T U V W X Y

What does this have to do with anything? Not too much, but we'll talk more about symmetry in a minute.

Planes of letters.
All uppercase letters are generally the same height. Vertically, they all start at the same stop and all end at the same spot. But lowercase letters are a completely different ballgame. Some dip low, some stay in a middle plane, and some stretch up to the height of capital letters. Oh the horror! This is probably a pretty basic concept in typography, but considering I have never formally studied it, it is revelatory to me (especially when combined with symmetry ... we'll get to that).

letters who stay still: a c e m n o r s u v w x z
letters who stretch up: b d f h k l t
letters who go down: g p q y j

If your favorite letter of the alphabet is i, then you have probably noticed that I didn't include it. I'm not quite sure where to put it. It probably belongs with the "letters who stay still," but that dot at the top just ruins everything. Let's say that it is a quasi-letters-who-stretch-up.

Now we get to mention my favorite lowercase letter: j

Look at it. The enigma of the letter world. It dips down below the central plane, but like the letter i, has some real-estate up above it. If j were graduating from its high school class, it would clinch up the "most personable" award. And when combined with letters all of the same plane, I think that it can make a word look visually appealing. Consider the word ajax, or mojo. Don't they just look good on the page?

Planes and patterns.
Getting back to the concept of symmetry, it seems to me that words have a better look about them when there is some sort of pattern in the letters. Actually, the more distinct pattern a word has, the more I am attracted to it. Lets look at a couple of words.

boring : The word lives up to its name. There are no patterns here. The best I can come up with is the b vertically reflecting the g. But even then, the i sort of disrupts us from enjoying that reflection. I don't see anything fun when I look at "boring."

lollipop : I like the way lollipop looks. Why? I think it is because we have this pattern TALLmiddleTALL i LOWmiddleLOW. Since l is such a thin letter, the "ll" sequence doesn't throw us for a loop. Even the i seems to work as a transition to the other half, like a ladder from the floor to the bookcase.

kayak : Of all the words here, kayak looks best to me. Not only is it a palindrome, but it is a palindrome that feels like a roller coaster - start high, dip low, and then ramp up high again. "kayak" has the most distinct pattern.

Why, why, and why?
It occurred to me that, even if we don't explicitly think about these concepts, "how a word looks" judging could very well be going on all the time in our minds. At the very least, I think that certain words jump out at us. For me, it is "kayak." I like it.

How can this be applied in any sort of constructive way? Well, since I like the word "kayak", I am prone to like other things that are associated with "kayak". In a world that is dominated by logos and branded company names, don't you want every edge you can get? This may apply even more so in the internet world. Web 2.0 is notorious for making up words as their brand (and to be honest, most of them aren't terribly interesting). If I am trying to be just a little bit more interesting than a thousand other companies, I would consider making my company's name a "fun word." In a worst case scenario, no one notices, it has no subconscious impact, and you lose nothing. But what if it does have an impact? What if, because people like your word, they are ever so slightly more likely to come back to your site? Isn't it work the risk? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So why not?

Just one more thing to chew on.


Quotations: Raph Kosler

"Games thus far have not really worked to extend our understanding of ourselves. Instead games have primarily been an arena where human behavior - often in its crudest, most primitive form - is put on display.

There is a crucial difference between games portraying the human condition and the human condition merely existing within games. The latter is interesting in an academic sense, but it is unsurprising. The human condition manifests anywhere. We may come to better understanding of ourselves by examining our relationship to games, but for games to truly step up to the plate, they need to provide us with insights to ourselves."
[ Raph Kosler, A Theory of Fun ]


What's wrong with science and religion

About a week ago, I wrote an article titled Myers' Friendly Middle is No Friendly Place. In it, I briefly mentioned a salon.com interview with Karl Giberson, as well as a response from PZ Myers (you can find links in the entry).

Why mention this? Well, it looks like salon.com enjoyed the controversy enough to encourage all participants to step into the ring for a grudge match. Take 15 minutes to read Giberson's latest piece: What's wrong with science as religion. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
PZ Myers is a true believer, a science crusader with the singled-minded enthusiasm of a televangelist. A biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and a columnist for Seed magazine, Myers has earned notoriety with his blog, Pharyngula, in which he reports on new developments in biology and indiscriminately excoriates those he views as hostile to science, a pantheon of straw men and women that includes theologians, journalists and churchgoers. He is Richard Dawkins without the fame or felicitous prose style.

Currently, Myers is under fire from his university and an army of righteous Catholics over his self-proclaimed "Great Desecration" caper. On July 24, he pierced a Communion wafer with a rusty nail ("I hope Jesus' tetanus shots are up to date," he quipped) and threw it in the trash with coffee grounds and a banana peel. The nail also cut through pages of the Quran and Dawkins' "The God Delusion." He featured a photo of the "desecration" on his blog, and wrote, "Nothing must be held sacred. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet."

( Of course, in an effort not to disappoint his own loyal readership, Myers drew up a quick response: Karl Giberson strikes back! )


Visual Classic: Pride and Prejudice

Today's Visual Classic is [ Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ]

( Visual Classics are word clouds that graphically represent how often words are used in selected classics. Click on the image above to see a larger version. All text is courtesy of Project Gutenberg. The word cloud is courtesy of Wordle. )

Quotations: A.J. Heschel

"The solution of mankind's most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it."
[ Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath ]


Myers' Friendly Middle is No Friendly Place (or, the story of the ugly duckling)

David Myers is now the latest scholar to toss his opinion into a recent surging of literature seeking to ease theist-atheist tensions. In his upcoming book, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith isn't Evil, Myers contemplates and comments on everything from the effectiveness of prayer to a Christian perspective on homosexuality. The book won't be released for nearly a month, but the preface, the first two chapters, and the controversial section on homosexuality are all on display at Myers' personal site.

Although the book by itself is an interesting one (after reading the "teaser" chapters online, I've already penciled in a bookstore date - coffee on me), the emergence of literature by intellectuals like Myers, Collins, and Giberson deserves its own spotlight. Scrolling through the entries of Science & Religion Today reveals that one of these books seems to be coming out on almost a weekly basis.

There is a common practice among many of the vocal atheists to mock any sort of theism that tries to claim a middle ground in the theist-atheist debates ("middle ground" is probably poor terminology to describe the position. Maybe "diplomacy" is better.). Unfortunately, there is also an equaly dissenting opinion stemming from the televangelist religious right that is eager to bloody and bludgeon anything less than a literal, word-by-word interpretation of the Bible.

David Myers is interesting because he doesn't fall into either camp. I think the perception is that Myers, Collins, Giberson, Gingerich, etc. have a faith of convenience - just scientific enough to be a scientist, and just Christian enough to be a Christian. It seems easy - glean the parts that you like, throw out the parts that don't mix, and stay friends with everyone.

Well, it just isn't true.

In reality, neither camp is quite willing to fully embrace many of these Christian scientists. Apparently, they aren't reasonable enough to be a scientist, and not Christian enough to be a Christian. How can someone believe in evolution AND God? Or in Myers case, how can you believe in homosexual marriage AND believe any shred of the Bible?

I think that a good example of this sort of tension can be seen in the reactions to Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Take a look at a blog post by ID advocate William Dembski :
"So in Giberson we have an erstwhile fundamentalist who used to reject evolution, got some education, swallowed Darwin hook, line, and sinker, and now spends his days justifying why his move to embrace Darwin was the better part of wisdom — all the while proudly proclaiming that he remains a Christian. Given the mental contortions required to remain a Christian once one embraces Darwin, Giberson is loathe to admit that Darwin is passe and the mental contortions were unnecessary. Hence the need to “save Darwin,” for in doing so Giberson saves his own intellectual and spiritual credibility."
Ouch. Unfortunately, Dembski is downright chummy after we compare him to atheist PZ Myers:
"Theologians like Giberson who try to impose their fantastic personal delusions on a book like that actually interfere with our understanding — they betray the entirely human story that we should be trying to extract from it. I will have no truck with the perpetuation of fallacious illusions, whether honeyed or bitter, and consider the Gibersons of this world to be corruptors of a better truth."
To Dembski and PZ, the Gibersons of the world are the ugly-ducklings of their cause: "Sure, they are part of our group . . . but only sort of."

But I applaud the people who stand in the middle; not because I believe everything they say, not because I think their books will persuade many to join their camp, but because it keeps the rest of us from running rampant in our increasingly radical and polarized tribes. After reading Myers excerpts, I'm not convinced that any atheists will switch camps. I don't think that many will leave saying, "Boy, God really is good" or "Faith really isn't evil." This is by no means a negative review, but a recognition of the reality where an atheist is about as likely to embrace God and faith as a Red Sox fan is to embrace Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees. Fortunately, in order for the book to succeed, I don't think they have to.

No matter where you stand on things, the middle opens a dialogue between the two camps; and that is good. That is very good. It prevents us from turning our own interpretations of God and theology into divine truths that were chiseled from the cliffs of Mount Sinai.

Both camps have some things right, and I'm sure that both camps have beliefs that are terribly, terribly wrong. Listen, I'm not opposed to strong opinions, or even defending those opinions with pitchforks and pickaxes a la Frankenstein. But we've driven ourselves so deeply into a nuclear stand-off that we've gone straight past the Cold War and crashed right into a Tom Clancy novel. At the very least, we should applaud efforts of diplomacy. Don't leave the phone off the hook. Don't defriend someone on Facebook. Don't key the car.

There are pages more to write about the subject (I've erased at least 5 paragraphs that could have easily turned into chapters), but for the moment, I'll leave it to the guys whose writing gets cover-art.

And in case you've forgotten how the story of The Ugly Duckling ends, I'll leave you with a worthwhile reminder, courtesy of Mr. Walt Disney himself:


The Last March of the Ents?

A couple of days ago, the New York Times posted an article about the rising success of small, cheap PCs - Smaller PCs Cause Worry for Industry:
"The new computers, often called netbooks, have scant onboard memory. They use energy-sipping computer chips. They are intended largely for surfing Web sites and checking e-mail. The price is small too, with some selling for as little as $300 . . . Industry analysts say that the emergence of this new class of low-cost, cloud-centric machines could threaten titans like Microsoft and Intel, or even H.P. and Dell, because the giants have built their companies on the notion that consumers want more power and functions built into their next computer."
The titans should be afraid. Very afraid. More and more of my colleagues and friends are turning away from high-powered computing beasts and looking for stripped down, easily maintained machines. Face it, 90% of the casual computing public only cares about three things:
  1. Browsing the internet
  2. Word Processing
  3. Music management
Online file storage is becoming more prevalent. Online office suites like Google Docs and Zoho are more and more widely used. The only thing stopping users from completely running off their internet browser is spotty wireless coverage. If free wireless ever becomes as widespread as say, cell-phone coverage, you might as well say goodbye to the expensive computer.

Sure, specialty computers will always exist (designing, movie-editing, programming, gaming, etc.), but my guess is that several years down the road, the average american won't need a computer running anything more than the latest version of Firefox. Viva la revolucion!


Fonts: Too Much of a Good Thing is a Terrible, Soul-Sucking Thing

A couple of weeks ago, Creating Dew posted a list containing 11 of the Highest User Ranked Free Fonts. The list is fun, and I've already found myself playing around with several of them.

But (and there's always a but), please please PLEASE use them sparingly. Let's face it, a majority of people who read this site are not designers, which means your mind immediately jumps to PowerPoint. And it's tempting, I'll be the first to admit it. It's fun to elicit an "ooh" or "ahh" when queuing up your presentation. You feel like you are establishing your PowerPoint street cred. You are proud that you aren't using Times New Roman or Calibri. And for a fleeting moment, you should be.

But then you ruin it. You ruin it for everyone.

You get excited about your new toys. You put them everywhere - you use and abuse them like a sadistic 5th grader with a Tomagatchi. Before you know it, your presentation goes from being Cinderella at the ball, to Cinderella at the night-club. You don't fit, no one understands you, and yes, they are all looking at you strangely.

Want to know what a portion of this post would look like in Jellyka Castle's Queen font? Just look on below (WARNING: the graphically minded may want to avert their eyes):

So once again, please PowerPoint responsibly.