Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year A'Comin'

This is the time when we pause to consider all that has occurred over the course of the year just coming to a close and contemplate our hopes for the year ahead.


Nothing all that encouraging comes to mind, I'm afraid. "I hope things go as well for you as they do for me", doesn't display the insightful quality one has learned to expect to mark this annual occasion. Still, it is at least an honest sentiment so it'll just have to do.

See you next year, assuming we're all still upright and breathing on our own by then.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If I Could Talk To TED

Cross-posted to Future Blogger.

In his 2005 book FAB, author Neil Gershenfeld introduced the world to the possibilities of our potential near future.

If I could talk to TED, I would remind them of this and point out that there is likely to be a longish wait for whole-object fabrication technology to be affordable and reliably available to the general public. And, that it isn't really necessary to wait for that happy day either. We humans are long established tool users already, so how unreasonable is it to seek to develop the fab technology to create replacement parts for our existing technology and simply replace the worn bits as necessary? The technology already allows for the used parts to be de-constructed on-site for re-use in later fabrications as well.

If I could talk to TED, I'd remind them that guys like me, in our 50's now, along with our wives and children are the initial target market for this technology to achieve ultimate universal acceptance and application. I would suggest to my fellow TEDsters that a useful mechanism for achieving that goal would be a video campaign that visually demonstrates the technology and its application process to any potential additional user. I would also point out that there is a wide-spread lack of understanding of why adoption of new scientific advances takes so long to come to market; watching as the early attempts fail, and explaining the complexities involved, will be an express objective of this video campaign also, with the eventual objective of showing ultimate success of course.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that there exists an empty building in Tyler Texas that would be wonderfully suitable for such a long-term effort that is available for lease. A former Walmart store, it already has a heavy maintenance area (the former automotive department) as well as warehouse storage, shipping and receiving facilities in place. An enclosed section of the parking lot (part of the former garden center) allows for long term secure testing of environmental effects on fab'd items and materials as well as extensive interior space for multiple projects to occur simultaneously. The ready availability of cable technology allows for high speed data transfer capability at little expense, so such a site would be suitable for tele-presence research efforts involving Dr. Gershenfeld's MIT lab and others to collaborate on projects at little added expense. Perhaps TED could facilitate developing and coordinating such projects.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that this technology will have a profound effect upon existing commercial and social models of human behavior. I would beseech the members of TED to intercede with the Board of Directors of Walmart to facilitate their becoming the corporate sponsor of this effort. Their business model in a future FAB society might be to provide the fab facilities for larger projects than a personal unit could handle as well as downloadable (for a modest fee) specifications for proven items of common usage that individuals might occasionally have need for. Don't want to fab 10 rolls of TP (or whatever) on your personal machine? Go to Walmart and pick up the order you submitted on-line earlier. The possible opportunities for Walmart from such an association are numerous.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that a potentially decade-long effort could be basically funded for $7 to $8 million with the expectation that much of the capital equipment would be donated and/or secondhand. Three regular employees would be augmented by research students and collaborative corporate sources with only periodic specialty contracted services necessary otherwise. It is specifically stipulated that any expansion beyond the basic video campaign would be financed in full by the expanded effort - indeed, that such a commercialization of the research would explicitly include additional funding for the research project.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that social change has need for attention to practical necessities as well as high minded ideals. That Vision can't always be focused on the objective if it wishes to overcome the obstacles. That failure along the way to success is a valuable lesson too. That taking the time and making the effort to answer objections in real and demonstrable fashion is also an important part of gaining acceptance of change, which itself is necessary to attaining widespread adoption of desired change. And finally, I would point out the obvious, that the future is coming no matter what we do and ask how much better are we prepared to make it be?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Practical Implementation of Strategic Principle

Cross-posted to Future Blogger.

I recently examined some of the strategic principles involved in advancing a position in a competitive environment, in particular in this comment exchange. I have found little opportunity to demonstrate the practice of the principles I study on this page heretofore.

Continuing on, Brian Wang of the Lifeboat Foundation, has compiled an instructive post on the recent nomination by President-elect Obama of Professor Steven Chu to the cabinet post of Energy Secretary. As Director of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and 1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Secretary-nominee Chu is well versed in both the scientific realities of energy generation and distribution systems and the - quirks - of government agency operations.

I have in the past stated my thoughts on effecting a national energy strategy. While this proposal was specifically intended only to rectify the forecast US shortfall of electrical generation and distribution predicted for the next decade or so, Professor Cho is eminently qualified to judge how well it can also serve as a mechanism to bridge the country through to wide-spread construction of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors which are capable of supplying both base load as well as demand load electrical grid requirements to any level of generation capability we wish to build, whether or not options such as solar or wind grid power are further developed. As I am confident the Secretary-designate will point out to the President-elect, there is a sufficiency of nuclear fuel remaining, regardless of the reactor type chosen. He is also well positioned to make clear that Molten Salt Reactors and Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors leave unspent fuel in minuscule quantities having a half-life measured over several decades. By re-processing existing spent fuel (as well as nuclear weapons material), the US would no longer need the storage facility at Yucca Mountain, unless Congress finds it economical to use it to replace existing storage facilities as they are emptied to fuel MSR and LFTR power units around the country over the next few score years.

President-elect Obama is my president too. I sincerely wish him the greatest success in leading our country through the economic and other challenges we presently confront, not to mention the other as-yet unidentified challenges that will no doubt appear during the coming four years. Mr. Obama finds himself in the politically rare position of being presented with the mechanism whereby he can effect an order-of-magnitude improvement in the existential capabilities of our country as well as initiate a resurgence of the nation's economy by the means I have identified. The same technology permits moderation of the world's potential for conflict as well, without fear of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Threats of assassination and the like (whether directed at the President-elect or more generally towards "government officials" or generic law enforcement) are largely the result of fear among the citizenry and challenge to supremacy amongst foreign elements. By such dramatic efforts to redress the employment and energy concerns of the country, Mr. Obama extends opportunity to the general populace and poses a challenge to his detractors to improve upon his efforts, thereby reducing the anxiety levels that contribute to such contemplations. By including foreign allies, he extends the pax americana in a non-conflicting fashion that further empowers other nation's leadership (political and other) to inhibit conflict with the US and among themselves. The foregoing won't guarantee peaceful results, but they will do much to ensure the nation's survival should conflict break out and work to isolate those who choose destruction over cooperation from their own potential allies.

There's my contribution to hope and change.

PS: Should any officer of the court desire to discuss the contents of this treatise in greater detail, they are invited to telephone me at their discretion - they have the means to acquire my cellphone number from the personal data associated with this blog. Should I not answer, please do leave a message and telephone number, I will call you back. In the event a personal contact seems desirable, please permit time for the morning coffee to kick in, then feel free to come knock on my front door. I will be happy to share the remainder of the Yuban in the pot (I'll even make fresh) and answer any questions that might exist concerning my statements.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Alliance

Kevin Baker has a new post up since Friday titled Fantasy Ideology in which he examines the recent resurgence of dispute within the (largely) US gun-owning populace over the proper method for protecting and advancing those ownership rights. I'm going to pick out one link he provides in particular because it so neatly illustrates what I regard as the more fundamental problem seeking address within this debate.

In a comment to his post, Caleb says:

I’m a prag, no doubt about it. Just like everyone else, I’ve got a line in the sand. I just don’t particularly feel the need to tell the entire world where my line in the sand happens to be, because that seems tactically unsound.

As a brief aside, and stipulating that Caleb is indeed a competent judge of his tactical circumstance, tactics are the immediate, transitory and situational-specific actions employed in response to a particular juxtaposition of events and locale. If in fact it was tactically unsound for him to reveal his "line in the sand" when Caleb wrote those words, the tactical situation has assuredly changed in the interim. As too, I should point out, has the precise nature of his hypothetical line.

What I believe Caleb was trying to express was the strategic concept of doubt, which I like to summarize as: Never let anybody know everything about you.

Literally anyone can choose (or be made) to threaten your position. This may be as trivial as influencing your decision to buy grocery item "A" instead of your preferred item "B" to the entirely non-trivial constraint against your buying a particular make and year model firearm (to bring this closer to the topic du jure, and thanks to Kevin for that link as well). Whatever the particulars might happen to be, the concept of doubt applies to all aspects of your life (and extends to literally everyone else in existence, to at least some degree); doubt as to your intentions, your capabilities and your limitations. Your parents, your children, your spouse, your colleagues, your closest friends and your most virulent enemies, all of them should be in some (and mutually contradictory) doubt regarding one or more fundamental aspect(s) of you. Doubt as to whether (or how) you either would (or would not) respond to a given stimulus in a particular circumstance with unreliable estimations being the only result no matter who is being asked. Doubt always empowers you, even in your most intimate relationships, because it provides a natural avenue of communication with anyone willing (or manipulated) to enquire of you. Multiplicity of options provides leverage to advancing your position without need of resorting to outright force - what Sun Tzu described as the epitome of good generalship. And, communication is the key to arriving at and maintaining an alliance.

While "country" can be limited to topological configurations, "nation" is always an alliance of insufficiently dis-similar competing positions. Kevin Baker's list of priorities is without doubt different from that of my own, but insufficiently different to preclude our mutual participation in that peculiar alliance known as the United States of America. The same could be said (if only barely :)) for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rush Limbaugh, too. All of which serves to illustrate that the present contretemps over ideological determination and expression is not only fundamental to the existence of our national alliance, it is the mechanism by which we test and improve our selves and our relationship, both together and with other's national alliances. To put it in manufacturing and engineering terms I'm sure Kevin can appreciate, ideological divisiveness is the Non-Destructive Test mechanism in our national alliance, and is so as a matter of express foundational choice (see: 1st Amendment, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, et al). We dispute together whereby we may advance together.

Strategic science (principles of classification and organisation utilizing measurable and falsifiable theorem) teaches that advancement can be least damagingly achieved by utilizing other-than-violent means. This requires encouraging the competitors into communicating amongst themselves and cooperating to mutual advantage. The technique most commonly employed to do this is to expand the field of conflict such that non-violent competition becomes more advantageous (amongst and to the involved parties) than is the alternative of doing violence to one another. As can be seen, this process works well whether or not there exists conflict between the parties; expanding alliances between warring nations (or neighbors or relatives) or between competing businesses or ideological adherents provides equally effective opportunities without resorting to destructively violent means. It also happens to illustrate the sometimes confusing nature of tactics as well; even transitory and situational dependant options have their perennial aspect.

In this recent post, I draw a parallel between this Eric Raymond essay and the current circumstance of actress Denise Richards (and, yes, that's partly your fault too, Kevin :)). Whether or not you concur with my opinion of her as either a person or artiste, I submit that Ms. Richard's circumstance provides a viable example of one mechanism whereby we gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters might expand the national debate on this issue to our (and the nation's) positional advancement. You'll have to actually click on the link and read what I wrote for yourself to decide how best to utilize this option, but whether or not you agree that this is the best available tactic I stand by my assertion that it would extensively alter the terms of engagement over this nationally (and in my opinion largely falsely) divisive issue. TamaraK might have a suggestion as to yet another possible national sponsor of such an effort, as well.

Which leads quite neatly to the strategic concept of controlling the context of conflict or, in the modern military parlance, "shaping the field of battle". As is often the case, strategic manipulations commonly employ mutually supportive efforts that involve different contributors to the action. What makes mundane strategy different from the more widely recognised military application is the preference for involving "the enemy" in the process to a much greater degree than most soldiers would be willing to risk. I attribute this to the basic military premise that conflict is the foundational assumption whereas competition is the normal condition otherwise. However violent competition might become, it precludes actual destruction of the opposition, if only on economic grounds; destruction of the enemy's supportive infrastructure is the preliminary position for the military.

Answer me this: Chrysanthemum Empire or Dirty Japs; Teutonic Efficiency or Nazi Slave Labor Camps; and most recently, Islamic Freedom Fighters or Rag Head Terrorists? How you phrase the concept profoundly influences people's subsequent understanding of the topic. If you let your opposition supply the terminology you allow him a dominant position from which to further advance his position; you on the other hand find yourself constantly re-stating your fundamental position with little time to spare for additional advancement. In my opinion, the classic example of this from the 20th century is wide-spread adoption of the word "capitalist" or it's corollary "capitalism". Karl Marx popularised these words in his 19th century socialist encyclical as a means of disparaging the market economy and its participants by lumping them together with the excesses and abuses of its evolutionary forebears and all of their (to as recently as just last week - whenever you may be reading this) detrimental manipulations of their various currencies and economic models. By consenting to the word, we consent to the premise as well, thereby granting the context of conflict to the political and philosophical enemy.

In the 3% issue Kevin writes about, there remains understated as of yet one of the principal attributes routinely touted by practitioners of other martial arts and sciences - the individual benefit to the practitioner from the discipline that rigorous adherence to the strictures of the practice input to the student. Rather than re-state the observations from Eric Raymond's outstanding essay on this aspect of gun ownership, I refer the reader to this recent soliloquy from a widely respected gun owner that approaches this issue from it's more practical viewpoint, from which I excerpt here:

Make up your mind ahead of time to resist; that's the most important thing of all. When the flag flies, your decision will already be made, and your mental decks will be cleared for action. Resist. Do not go gently. Fight back. The life you save may be your own, or it may be that of the innocent person standing next to you who now has time to run, but make up your mind now.

As a student of strategic thought I can find no fault with the foregoing as a foundational principle. As a student of the gun, I hasten to point out that the tactical environment will play a huge role in determining when and to what degree this principle should be adhered to. While strategy is universal, the tactics utilized to achieve positional advancement are always situational and pragmatic. In more common philosophic terms, strategy addresses moral issues while tactics are always ethically challenging. As promoters of the RKBA, we need to involve the general American public in establishing a national discipline of gun-related martial arts and science principles that can be practiced without aid of an actual gun - think sport karate or kendo as opposed to Hong Kong street fighter or Samurai. I know that Krav Maga teaches some of these practices, but not as a philosophy per se, what we need is to develop that philosophy and involve as many non-shooters in the development process as we practicably can. They may still decline to own a gun themselves thereafter, but it almost certainly won't be out of ignorance or lack of understanding. If we gun ownership supporters can achieve such a national condition (per Eric Raymond, again) then we operate to advance our position over those who directly - and pretty much openly - threaten us, not seek to "protect" us.

A school of philosophy that safely teaches our children discipline and self-reliance, as citizens of a nation founded upon those very principles, pretty much becomes our national and personal "line in the sand", doesn't it?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Res Publica

Are you a resident of the state of Texas? If so, go here and cast your vote.

It's the only way we'll ever get an opportunity to cast a real one someday.