Ken Novak's Weblog
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Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Thursday, November 27, 2003


Energy Efficient System for Desalination of Sea-water: "Clean water is becoming scarce and until now the cost of desalination has been a barrier to exploiting seawater. However, a Danish company, HOH Water Supply (HOH), specialising in water technology, has overcome this barrier and invented a new method, which halves the energy consumption of desalination plants. The method, based on existing membrane technology, makes it possible to recycle 95% of the pressure used for pumping sea water through the membrane system. Thus the energy consumption at the desalination plant's pumps and operations are cut from about 7 kWh/m3 of water to 3-4 kWh/m3 of desalinated water. The new Energy Recovery System (ERS) has been developed by an independent engineer in co-operation with HOH. "  9:57:23 AM  permalink  

Economic Consequences of the War on Terrorism:  "Terrorism has many roots, some in poverty, some in religious fundamentalism, some in other forms of extremism, some in the lack of political voice by people such as Palestinians or Chechnians. These can be addressed, in different ways in different places, but if they are the enemies then there is little chance of final victory. In the search for something achievable, subsidiary goals - such as regime change in Iraq - may be pursued. But they also create new problems and therefore do not necessarily take us closer to the ultimate goal. In its haste and hubris, the US may set itself up to be defeated by declaring war on such a multi-headed and complex enemy. That was the Vietnam story.

In this interconnected world, the rest of us may suffer significant collateral damage from US actions that we have very little power to influence. ..

In this world of a sole superpower, what can constrain the US in pursuing foreign policy goals that may be inimical to its western allies? Clearly not Europe's combined military might, even if we could manage to harness it to a common European foreign and security policy. The very limited political appetite in Europe for higher defence spending means that bargaining with the US on that score will never get us very far. A large survey taken in June of this year by the German Marshall Fund found that while 70% of Europeans favoured the EU becoming a superpower alongside the US, support plummeted to just 36% if that role meant spending more on defence. (Financial Times 04.09.03)

This leads me to conclude – perhaps paradoxically - that the most effective constraints on US foreign policy are likely to be its own domestic ones. .. In a poll last summer, US voters were asked what would be most important in determining their vote for president next year. Forty-eight percent said the economy, 23% said the course of the war on terror and 24% said they rated both issues equally..

The economic implications of the current US foreign policy direction make it politically unsustainable. It will have to change direction, either by committing itself to multilateralism in a way that brings allies on board for the long haul of the war on terrorism, or by blundering towards an eventual abandonment of the strategy, as happened in Vietnam 30 years ago. ..

I doubt that many Americans realise that the EU countries together contribute more than twice as much aid to developing countries as the US does. It is time to recast the old Cold War concepts of ‘burden sharing' to fit the 21st century scourge of global terrorism. "

  7:34:09 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, November 26, 2003


When Cash Is Only Skin Deep: "A Florida company has announced plans to develop a service that would allow consumers to pay for merchandise using microchips implanted under their skin.."  ExxonMobil and MasterCard already experiment with keyfob or card-based RFID.  "a senior MasterCard executive said the company is considering integrating its RFID technology into other items, such as pens or earrings."  Applied Digital wants to put it under the skin.

Meanwhile, Applied Digital has attracted scorn from some fundamentalist Christians, who believe that VeriChip is the fabled "mark of the beast" of biblical lore. According to the book of Revelation, Satan will someday force people to "receive a mark" on their hands or foreheads in order to buy or sell.  "This is a gigantic step toward the mark of the beast, " said Gary Wohlscheid, whose website, These Last Days Ministries..

Applied Digital has [also] positioned its microchip as an anti-kidnapping device (VeriKid), emergency ID system (VeriMed) and as a way to control access to secure buildings (VeriGuard). "

  4:14:48 PM  permalink  

DIY Solar Electricity: Kits of micro-PV for battery charging and operating electronics in developing countries.  Used by micropower advocates in India.  3:52:35 PM  permalink  

Wireless Freedom! - Radiophony: "Welcome to Radiophony, innovative audio solutions in communications for ordinary people. Our aim is to promote ways to make the Internet accessible for everyone. We have recently helped set up a community audio center in a village in Andhra Pradesh."  Includes neat functional diagram comparing FM radio and telephony.  3:48:31 PM  permalink  

Wireless Freedom! - Radiophony: "Welcome to Radiophony, innovative audio solutions in communications for ordinary people. Our aim is to promote ways to make the Internet accessible for everyone. We have recently helped set up a community audio center in a village in Andhra Pradesh."  3:48:00 PM  permalink  

MHonArc Home Page: "A mail-to-HTML converter," written in perl.  Might come in handy for mailbucket-type service.  2:24:18 PM  permalink  

One Man Against Secrecy: " Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, is an army of one, the David in an era of Goliath-strength government stealth.   Armed with a pocket-size copy of the Constitution, the Freedom of Information Act and an investigator's patience for source-building, Aftergood is out to slay what he sees as the arbitrariness of the U.S. system for classifying documents to keep them secret.   To do that, he asks foundations and donors for $150,000 a year ("in a good year") to keep his online newsletter, Secrecy News (www.fas.org/sgp/index.html), and staff of one -- himself -- going. He often scoops the national media with anecdotes about government attempts to keep information secret. ..

"I'm not dogmatic about any of this," he said. "I don't look at this as a game. I don't look at the government as the enemy. I'm interested in a rational information policy that respects the American public."

  11:53:38 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, November 25, 2003


Iraqis' impatience, guarded hope: Review of stories in several cities. Nice observation: "After ticking off the projects that US soldiers are working on, Maj. Paul Gass of Humble, Texas, pauses. He's a gung ho, 19-year career soldier. But he's frustrated. He's worked 7-day weeks for nine months and probably won't see his wife and twin daughters for another five months. "Officers aren't getting the two weeks of R&R," he explains with a tight smile. "We shouldn't have to be doing this kind of work. This is NGO work. When are they going to get here? When it's a secure environment? Well, it ain't yet. Deal with it.""  9:22:35 PM  permalink  

Georgia's partner in democracy: US: ""The US government has gone to great lengths to back a [democratic] process and institutions, and to be very careful - amid big pressure from both sides - not to back certain individuals," says Mark Mullen, head of the Georgia office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), funded by the US government, which has engaged in democracy training here since the mid-1990s. 

"We are so grateful to the US and European Union, our friends that have supported us," says Giorgi Baramidze, a chief strategist of interim President Nino Burjanadze. "We can now teach our children how to defend democracy, using Georgia's 'Rose Revolution' as the example."

Senior US officials pushed diplomatic buttons before and throughout the crisis - in concert with Russia and others - making clear to all sides the dangers of a forceful crackdown or street violence. But untidy as the opposition's seizure of power has been, analysts say that billions in Western aid - and steady prodemocracy brow-beating - proved a key to regime change, one achieved without a shot being fired. ..

Unlike pro-government parties, the opposition lapped up lessons in working together, using the media to spread its message, making a parallel vote tabulation - to provide credible "real" election results, to counter the falsified official returns - and in raising expectations of a free and fair vote.  NDI and other Western-funded groups also taught lessons from case studies - from the US civil rights movement to the revolutions of East Europe that caused the Soviet Union to collapse to the example of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade in 2000. ..  But a Western diplomat familiar with both cases says the Georgian example is one of "generic" democracy building, that did not aim to unseat Shevardnadze - a former Soviet foreign minister widely respected in the West for guiding the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union.  Still, protesters in Tbilisi drew some inspiration from the burning of parliament in Belgrade.

"There is clearly US influence in this," says George Khutsishvili, head of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, one of many prodemocracy groups in Tbilisi that receives US, EU, and other Western funding. "The US has supported this government for so many years, with so little outcome. It was a disaster. Finally they realized [Shevardnadze] is not the man to count on" and that the "only thing is to remove [him]."  What was unclear was whether the Belgrade example was "possible in Georgia, without blood," Mr. Khutsishvili says. "Without the US - which was crucial - there would have been a more unpredictable, violent, and painful way," ..

Perhaps more important was the environment created by the flood of prodemocracy cash in recent years, that convinced many Georgians that the vote was a farce - and that act they must.  "Now that it has reached a seemingly successful result, one of the things you have to say is that all of this election hoopla, largely financed by the Western community ... [helped] raise public expectation that this would be an honest and decent election," says a Western diplomat, who asked not to be further identified.  The result "exposed to the public ... what people were doing to cheat them of the full weight of their ballot," the diplomat says,.. Indeed, that message seems to have been heard widely, since protests included even the most poor, and some elderly - constituents that make little political difference elsewhere in the region. "We showed the government what we wanted," says Maria Mamasashvili, a now-unemployed laborer wearing an orange scarf, who came from the provinces to take up vigil outside the parliament building. "It was my election, they stole my vote, so I showed them my voice means something."

  9:13:47 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, November 24, 2003


Shirky: File-sharing Goes Social: Programs like Groove are the next logical Kazaa.  10:51:05 PM  permalink  

Shirky: The FCC, Weblogs, and Inequality: "people who believe that our goals should be diversity and freedom and damn the consequences haven't had much effect on the traditional media landscape to date, so we have very little evidence on the practical effect of their proposals. The most obvious goal for this group is radical expansion of media choice in all dimensions, and a subsequent dropping of all mandated restrictions. For this view to come to pass, restrictions on internet broadcast of radio and TV should be dropped, web radio stations must live in the same copyright regime broadcast stations do, much more unlicensed spectrum must be made available, and so on. " Weblogs are cited as an example where freedom and diversity resulted in great inequality, with a small proportion of blogs getting a great majority of the usage.  "Diverse. Free. Equal. Pick two."  10:42:40 PM  permalink  

Shirky: Permanet, Nearlynet, and Wireless Data: 3G vs WiFi, with an interesting take on disruptive technologies:  "The permanet [3G] strategy is to start with a service that is good but expensive, and to make it cheaper. The nearlynet strategy is to start with a service that is lousy but cheap, and to make it better. The permanet strategy assumes that quality is the key driver of a new service, and permanet has the advantage of being good at every iteration. Nearlynet assumes that cheapness is the essential characteristic, and that users will forgo quality for a sufficient break in price. What the permanet people .. have going against them, however, is incentive. The operator of a cheap but lousy service has more incentive to improve quality than the operator of a good but expensive service does to cut prices.

And incremental improvements to quality can produce disproportionate returns on investment when a cheap but lousy service becomes cheap but adequate. .. [Meanwhile] coverage over cost is often an exponential curve -- as the coverage you want rises, the cost rises far faster" (ie, from home, to street, to town, to suburb to rural area, the cost per area keeps getting higher).

  10:30:05 PM  permalink  

Shirky: A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy: The first really good thing I've read in the field of "social software".   A fun read too, with stories from 1978 bbs' onwards, observations on social process, and useful (essential) advice for service providers and software authors.  10:15:42 PM  permalink  

O'Reilly speculates on Meetup and Blogging Stats as an Opinion Indicator: EG:

Meetup Top Topics in Politics & Activism

1. Dean in 2004 (>144,200 members)
2. Clark in 2004 (>45,400)
3. Kucinich in 2004 (>18,300)
4. Kerry in 2004 (>16,800)
..

Feedster for each candidate's name:

    Howard Dean - 25,724 blog mentions
    Wesley Clark - 7,624
    John Kerry - 7,382
    Dennis Kucinich - 3334

Or, check out the Fundrace Money Map for the geographic spread of donors.

  9:44:40 PM  permalink  

Dell Closes Overseas Call Centers: "After an onslaught of complaints, direct sales computer king Dell Inc. has stopped routing corporate customers to a technical support call center in Bangalore, India. ..

"Customers weren't satisfied with the level of support they were receiving, so we're moving some calls around to make sure they don't feel that way anymore," Weisblatt said.  He would not discuss the nature of the dissatisfaction, but some U.S. customers have complained that Indian support operators are difficult to communicate with because of thick accents and scripted responses. ..

Corporate customers account for about 85 percent of Dell's business, with only 15 percent coming from the consumer market. Consumer callers won't see a change in technical support, Weisblatt said, and Dell has no plans to scale back resources at the Bangalore call center.  Worldwide, Dell employs about 44,300 people. About 54 percent are located abroad. ..

Among Dell customers dissatisfied with the company's use of overseas labor is Ronald Kronk, a Presbyterian minister in Rochester, Pa., who has spent the last four months trying to resolve a miscommunication that has resulted in his being billed for two computers.  The problem, he says, is that the Dell call center is in India.  "They're extremely polite, but I call it sponge listening—they just soak it in and say 'I can understand why you're angry' but nothing happens," Kronk said."

  9:28:33 PM  permalink  

Scott Hanselman's Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tools List: treasure trove for .NET hackers.  5:45:37 PM  permalink  

Xteq URL Bandit: "Xteq URL Bandit 1.2 - Grab URLs from the clipboard fast and easily Xteq URL Bandit is a little program that monitors your clipboard and catches all URLs it finds. These URL are saved so you can later easily access them and don't lose them when you turn your computer off. "  5:45:11 PM  permalink  

Iraq's new challenge: civil society: Nice profile of an Iraq-American RTI contractor in Baghdad:  "When they say it's an occupation, I say, and why wasn't Saddam? I get frustrated with that," Saraf says. "Every day without Saddam is a blessing. I think I can speak for Iraqis on that. Impatience is going to do us injustice."  11:55:56 AM  permalink  

Developing Nations Begin to Embrace Internet Commerce: NYT has a few random notes on developing country developments.  Two interesting points:

  • Thailand has focussed policy and investments on increasing Internet penetration; it has now reached >50% outside of Bangkok.
  • "Everest S.A., a family-run business in San Salvador, sold a 69-kilogram lot (152 pounds) of coffee beans in an Internet auction from one of its five farms for a record price of $14.06 a pound. ..  [They] entered the Cup of Excellence competition, which included 335 of the country's roughly 23,000 farms, and in early May received first prize for beans from the family's Kilimanjaro farm.  Cup of Excellence then arranged an online auction featuring lots from the competition's finalists..  The auction put her company in direct contact with buyers. In the past, she said, local mills would buy the farms' beans and sell them to distributors. "We've now taken the middleman out, which is huge," she said. .. Ms. Batlle said she had maintained a relationship with the Norwegian coffee distributor that bought her beans as well as a Japanese distributor that bid $3.20 a pound for coffee from another of the family's farms in a July auction. That change, she said, will help the farm lift average prices above the 30 cents a pound it received last year."  They now pay their laborers 4 cents instead of 3 cents per picked pound.
  10:06:55 AM  permalink  

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