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Author Archives: Mitch Ratcliffe
Here’s something that we can use big data for today: Let’s set the socioeconomic benchmark against which society will respond to rising sea levels across all income levels.
Everyone carrying a phone today is throwing off location data that, if anonymized, collected and analyzed, would show what low-lying land is most used today. From that, we can project the potential economic disruptions that will be caused by various levels of sea level change, as many tools do today. We can look at property ownership, travel patterns, rent and home prices that will be impacted by rising water and, like the Dutch when they decided to hold the sea back, make some long-term decisions that will save everyone, not just the privileged, from personal tragedy and economic disaster as their homes, communities and job networks disappear in the waves.
When the ocean rises, and it will rise enough that many low-lying cities in 40, 80 or 120 years will be under many inches or feet of water, everyone’s lives will be disrupted. If we start tracking the use of public and private property, shared-use common areas and investments, such as the the cost of infrastructure that may be destroyed, and that which needs to be created to holds the seas back, can be mapped to provide the best outcome for all. At least, it will give everyone a baseline against which to measure the impacts. Democracy can take care of the rest, with an assist from the market, but a market-only solution will leave far too many losers.
Without some benchmark to measure the social cost of responding to climate change, the wealthiest people will almost certainly benefit disproportionately to others who live and work in flooded areas. We’ll see cries reparations for lost land from every quarter, but the rich will have the loudest voice, as we know from the state of political speech today.
The homes of the rich that line sea coasts everywhere will be lost, but so will many of the homes occupied (not necessarily owned by) the poor and middle class. Who will get the help necessary to relocate? Who will have new public right-of-ways running through their neighborhoods when existing rail and road infrastructure must be moved inland or raised above the rising seas? Will insurers make the rich whole and, like home insurance today, leave most people less than half-whole when the cost of relocation is counted?
I am not arguing that anyone get resources here, only for a measurement so that, when the crisis comes, we will have had many years, even decades to have the national and international conversation about the mass migration of people fleeing the high tide. We may decide it’s time to move past many of the institutions we rely on today.
If we’re going to go through this together, we need the data to understand the distributed social cost of lands and infrastructure — technical, industrial, social and even personal networks that currently provide support to families. The problem with this statement is that it appears naive, because we live in a society where almost everyone thinks they’ve made their way in the world alone. That myth is going to collapse as the world starts denying us land and resources we used to have.
Yet we can get through this, as humans have done many times in history, if we recognize the real costs and opportunities in radical change. Perhaps, with lots more data and people trained to think through these complex issues armed with real-time and historical perspectives provided by big data strategies, we might actually realize we are in this together.
as species always just one step away from declaring “We’ll be better off without these kinds of people,” and acting on that nutty reasoning to the detriment of the next poor son of a gun to have their ox gored, until, reason suggests, a few people are left battling over great fortunes while the rest wait to learn our fate? It’s time for a second act, humanity. Now. You heard me.
Over at Doc Searls’ excellent VRM list, there is a discussion about “governance.” Some like the word, others hate it — the concept is naturally troubling for engineers who generally ignore abstractions. But this is an inevitable crossroads for any large-scale systems development. It’s the Technologist’s Bane: We still have to do society, there’s no building successful systems that will ignore social priorities. That’s what we are arguing about here – the “governance” of the Net, the organization, the partnership all need at every level to be negotiable within a reasonable range in order for transactions to have novel outcomes not reinforcing of previous models.
Government served this function, as the setting for negotiation and enforcer of rights, but we’ve hit the limit of governmental flexibility and responsiveness – thank you, Congress – when crossing the national-transnational boundaries that the Net naturally crosses with impunity. Here, where people’s lives are shaped and reshaped by the system, we cannot shrug off the hard problems because of a distaste for politics, allocating them to the future, so we can “figure them out later.”
This is where trust meets the road, where the cogs have to be aligned, where our initial agreements will be born. Right here is where VRM must say “the battle of all against all” is over and a new alternative exists that can be understood easily and intuitively by all while producing novel socio-economic outcomes.
While working with Dee Hock’s Chaordic Alliance, which worked to establish organizational models that could be adapted, and adopted to specific needs, I repeatedly saw the governance argument derail implementation of a new organizational model. Concerns parochial often won out, preventing organizations from changing too drastically, undercutting the Chaordic model that emphasized self-organization and shared governance to ensure ongoing transparency for NEW members in relation to the founding members. Without the inflow of new members, there is no growth and the system will become moribund.
Rather than reject governance, we need to find a new respect for the nuance of social interaction involved in negotiation and decision-making so that systems can be engineered on standards that include sufficient flexibility for a wide range of experimentation within the model. Instead, people tend to either reject governance or monopolize governance by making the process opaque. Then the system becomes either an ongoing battlefield that quickly destroys the value of the system or it results in a hegemony by the early participants, who know how the system “really works,” which is just another way of saying we’ve found a way to facilitate bald political power in a new environment and you, new people, are on the outside.
This will be the hardest mountain for VRM or any variation on these ideas to overcome. It killed the Chaordic Commons. Tom’s call for analysis and reflection on the existing system and the proposed new system is the only viable next step. Some parts of the old models will still be valuable, represented here by the concepts of private property and fungible value, the ability to engineer a transactional environment in order to profit from facilitating the transactions, among others.
It’s time for experimentation and pragmatic debate.
Except for Dred Scott v. Sandford, today’s Supreme Court ruling allowing “closely held companies” such as Hobby Lobby to decide what forms of birth control may be available to employees, is the dumbest, most backwardly venal decision by a group of men (all male majority in the case) in the history of the Supreme Court. At least, like Chief Justice Taney, all these men will eventually die and be remembered for this kind of crony capitalist decision, which will be humiliating to live with until it is overturned.
We’ve put women in the back of the medical care bus, a man at the wheel, and decided to close our eyes to gender bias and the influence of money on health care in the United States. Too bad that the conservatives on the Court did not listen to the advice of another conservative Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, who wrote a memo while clerking for Justice Jackson in 1952, when Brown v. Board of Education ended the Scott decision’s influence on public policy by striking down the segregation of schools: “Scott v. Sandford was the result of Taney‘s effort to protect slaveholders from legislative interference.” Taney ignored basic facts to ensure a system of human slavery was sustained, the Court’s majority today is ignoring medical advice to accommodate profit combined with bigotry.
In the meantime, join me in taking a pledge:
I will not shop at any store that places the owner’s religious beliefs above the employees’ freedom to choose medical treatment. America is great when we can each choose a personal path based on our own values, not when it enforces the values of any group, majority or minority, male or female, straight or gay population, regardless of religious affiliation, on the rest of population.
We’ll always have the reversal of the decision to look forward to, which could come with just one more woman on the Court, but we have to wait for it, for now. Hopefully, not for as long as the Scott decision to be tossed out,which took more than a century.
My pursuit of the Ecuadoran volcanoes has to start at my gut, which has been hanging out with little exercise for the last four years. If I am going to walk up to 20,000 feet (3.78 miles above sea level), I need to be able to run mostly uphill for at least twice that distance several times a week down here on Puget Sound. Strength training, especially in my back, neck and shoulders, in addition to core- and leg-strength, will be my other priority. If you’ve ever had to belay someone who is unconscious down a cliff face, you’ll know it’s not a cake walk.
At 53 years, the first step toward conquering my gut, extending my endurance and increasing my strength without hurting myself is to do an inventory of my initial response to exercise. Stuff in your body no longer works reliably at my age and starting to exercise is like trying to spot the lemons when you walk onto a used car lot.You need to get down on your knees and look under the chassis. Take your time and watch out for tell-tale signs the transmission’s going to go soon.
Mapping my aches and noisy joints proved an eye-opener to me. One of my knees creaks like a door in a haunted house. I’ve got noisy shoulder — the one I have not have surgery on — and I can tell you exactly where I have bone-on-bone grinding in my L1 disc. It’s on the left side of my body as you face me. David Churbuck‘s advice to get an AbMat for situps was a godsend. It enforces full movement of the back that relieves my degraded discs.
I laid out a workout baseline to grow from, establishing over the course off the first week of training my single-set maximum number of situps (45), pushups (1, and I cheated), squats (25), dips (7) and average pace walking and running (3.1 and 4.2 m.p.h. respectively — I walk a lot more than I run), as well as the number of reps in various weight-lifting categories with which I will not bore you here. My focus is on reps, not weight at this point. Older men shouldn’t just go to the gym like they are 20 and start to workout hard. Do more with less. It applies with weights and life.
It took several days to give myself the initial tests, then I increased the training pace to the point where I was and still am muscle-sore at every extremity by the end of the day. There are lots of points of view on muscle soreness, and I tend to find it good in the long run. I hurt, but it is not like I am trying to wake the dead here. I just haven’t used a lot of these muscles for a long time. They are sleepy, complaining as my knees do first thing every morning. My knees get over it, so my muscles will too. I freely acknowledge a perverse logic is in play here. It takes commitment approaching the religious to undertake this kind of project, so consider the gods of perverse logic invoked in my defense.
After a week, I’ve seen an increase in distance run with ease and the frequency of sprints I can sustain. A week ago, on my first run in the hills, I covered about 2.1 miles with about 220 feet of climbing. Today I covered 3.8 miles with 516 feet of climbing in just 10 minutes more than my first time. I’ve lost 3.9 pounds in the week.
I thought that after this assessment I might be ready to cancel the climb for this year. Surprising myself, I think getting into this kind of shape in the time that I have if I want to go to Ecuador this November, is a tremendously difficult challenge. It is not, I’ve concluded, insurmountable. The first peak climbed was overcoming my own self-skepticism. Not that I dislike skepticism, but when I looked myself in the mirror last week after making the reservation to climb the reasons for doubt were legion. The data says it’s doable, with a dose of faith in the gods.
Next, I tackled the question of what I ate, which I’ll write about soon.
I love the Oxford English Dictionary. When I bought my copy of the Compact Edition about 15 years ago for $299, I began poring over it using the magnifying glass provided for that purpose. Since then, I’ve watched for the online version to become a reasonable proposition. It hasn’t.
Today, one can buy a year’s individual online access to the OED for $295, four dollars cheaper than the print Compact Edition cost me a long, long time ago. In fact, the print Compact Edition has increased to $380 over that time. The online edition is still the same price as a print product 15 years or so ago.
Granted, the definitive source of information about the English language isn’t cheap. The OED’s authority is partially a function of its ability to define the language. Why has the OED remained stratospherically expensive in digital form? It seems obvious that the company could go down market with the price and drive both more sales and, with existing customers like me who have never had the print copy fail us, get ongoing revenue for providing updates in real-time.
The cost of fulfilling a digital order — one order, not the infrastructure — for access to the OED is microscopic in comparison to the print version. The cost of Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite and everything else has fallen while the OED sits tight on a small institutional market with some dedicated wordies like me picking up print editions.
The OED should be $29.95 a year, not per month. They could get $99 a year easily. I’ll pay that price right now, just give me the opportunity.
The lack of a lower-priced product makes no sense, when the OED could literally wipe out the competition with a reasonably priced web service based on its brand. At minimum, please open an API for developers and allow others to innovate on search and presentation while focusing on its linguistic excellence. Let them sell the subscription as part of their app cost and take a share. Give me my words in more places — apps, platforms, contexts, such as embedded in other applications as an up-sell — and I’d consider $199 a year. The magic price is south of $100, I believe.
What got me started on this topic today? My copy of the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary app, the closest I can get to a digital OED for $29.99, asked me to rate it. My response was to look for a way to get the real OED, even if it cost me more. No one would reasonably pay the same price for the digital service as they did for a book they may replace once a decade or less often, if they ever replace a book.
Digital books are revenue streams. Tap into it, OED.
Years ago I was a climber and hiker, and it was a challenge from a friend just a few days after my 53rd birthday that made me realize I was excusing myself from the kind of work needed to climb a big mountain. I’m acting older than I am, time to flip the bit on aging. Rather than retire I’ve decided to climb two volcanoes in Ecuador this winter (Ecuador’s summer). Cotopaxi and Antisana, pictured above, are my targets.
Now I need to get into shape. Mountains require a good deal of respect. If I am not ready this year, I’ll go next year. For now, I am an older fat guy with 50 lbs. to lose — and a lot of strength to rebuild — before I can venture to the 18,000 ft. – 20,0000 ft. peaks of these Ecuadoran volcanoes. Pleural edema (bleeding into the lungs) at altitude will be my biggest challenge, as I live and train at sea-level. The opportunity to acclimatize, while working and remaining an engaged father and husband, is the hack I need to figure out as I start training.
It is very easy to die climbing mountains and I don’t want to creep or freeze off this mortal coil. I do want to see things from the top of the world. It’s the moment you reach a summit and turn to look at what you climbed and the view around, that makes mountaineering worthwhile. Except for all the rigorous exercise and your climbing partners, the ascent is something that each climber has to get themselves through largely on their own in order to be a good team member. My getting in shape is what I owe the people I’ll climb with, or I will not go. I’m no Into Thin Air kind of guy; I like to win and stay alive.
Today, I did my second hike to prepare, a three-mile run over a largely hilly, albeit at sea-level, route. I climbed about 400 feet. It wasn’t exhausting. I’m sore. Coming on the heels of a five-mile walk with my son yesterday, it feels like this year’s climb may be doable. Either way, I will lose a lot of weight and be ready for a climb this year or next.
With the disasters on Everest and Rainier this season, it may seem a strange time to decide to climb. I was on Rainier in 1980 when the biggest ice fall collapse in history killed 11 people on the mountain. This year’s Everest tragedy, which claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas, was very similar in terms of the kind of sudden failure of a glacial body that killed so many people in 1980. The unexpected is to be expected while on a mountain. I can only prepare to see if I’ll be able to make the trip this year. If one is smart about mountaineering, giving nature the respect required to survive nature on its worst days, the worst outcome for this new goal is: I lose a lot of weight, get in shape, strengthening my degenerative back in the process, to add maybe more than a few years to my life.
Onward, to Cotopaxi and Antisana.