Brain imaging

The brain via diffusion spectrum imaging.

Does the brain look like a koosh ball? Indeed so, when seen via diffusion spectrum imaging, which “analyzes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data in new ways, letting scientists map the nerve fibers that carry information between cells.”

Neural fibers in the brain are too tiny to image directly, so scientists map them by measuring the diffusion of water molecules along their length. The scientists first break the MRI image into “voxels,” or three-dimensional pixels, and calculate the speed at which water is moving through each voxel in every direction. Those data are represented here as peanut-shaped blobs. From each shape, the researchers can infer the most likely path of the various nerve fibers (red and blue lines) passing through that spot.

Neural fibers.

Intellectual honesty

Handy guide to “the 10 signs of intellectual honesty” by Mike Gene, author of The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues. Here’s one to think about next time you tune into Rush Limbaugh:

8. When addressing an argument, do not misrepresent it. A common tactic of the intellectually dishonest is to portray their opponent’s argument in straw man terms. In politics, this is called spin. Typically, such tactics eschew quoting the person in context, but instead rely heavily on out-of-context quotes, paraphrasing and impression. When addressing an argument, one should shows signs of having made a serious effort to first understand the argument and then accurately represent it in its strongest form.

White spaces

David Isenberg blogs about white space, a telecom term for unused frequencies in the radio waves portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, here specifically referring to using available digital television spectrum. Google and the New America Foundation had a meeting on white spaces or pervasive connectivity, “open airwaves, open networks.” David says this “seems an over-reach without a systems approach that includes pervasive fiber and already-deployed wireless protocols, such as Wi-Fi and LTE.”

Who’s going to build devices in such scale that they’ll out price-performance Wi-Fi? Who’s going to offer service that’ll out-pervade the cellular network? And what about that one critical factor that every wireless network must consider, backhaul

He sees this as another in a series of experiments, but he’s lookng for “a big, synoptic plan that rises above specific technologies and specific policy agendas, that uses all of the expertise available, to craft a comprehensive vision worthy of the moniker ‘Pervasive Connectivity.'”

Suppose in the next few months we get the opportunity to propose a real plan for Pervasive Connectivity for our nation, could we rise to the occasion? Or would we remain conditioned to the mindset of the last eight years, when small increments counted as great victories. Naomi Klein cites Milton Friedman’s idea that in a nodal moment, the ideas implemented are the ideas lying around. Rick Perlstein, in an essay called, A Liberal Shock Doctrine, points out that even progressive progress occurs in spurts, at opportune times. We shouldn’t limit our vision to one specific technology or one tactically available sliver of spectrum. Now is the time to have a comprehensive plan “lying around” for the network we really want.

Blimps along the Bay

I’m a zeppelin fan, always wanted to ride one. Looks like the day may come: passenger zeppelins are the wave of the present, popping up in the San Francisco skies. The SF zeppelin tours are pricy ($495/hr), but imagine skies filled with zeppelins a few years out. After all, they’re supposed to be more energy efficient than jets – maybe this is the future of air travel? [Link to Airship Ventures]

…Airship Ventures will offer rides that provide a bird’s-eye view of Napa and Sonoma wine country, the Big Sur coastline, San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. The cabin holds 12 passengers and two crew members, and tickets start at $495 per person for an one-hour ride.

“It’s a way to see the world in a way that you haven’t experienced it before,” said Brian Hall, a software entrepreneur who started the company last year with his wife, Alexandra. “In a zeppelin, you’re flying low and slow. You’re going at a leisurely pace. You’re seeing things that you wouldn’t see from the road.”

H+ – a new transhumanist webzine

RU Sirius is editing a new Mondo 2000-ish transhumanist webzine calledH+. Download the pdf. From RU’s intro:

The glory of transhumanism is that it’s not just a movement of immortalists, or singularitarians, or advocates of digital democratization, or experimenters in self-enhancing technologies. Transhumanism reminds us that all — or at least many — of these developments are coming online at about the same time, that they impact each other, and that they will be remaking our societies and our personal experiences of the world in tandem. It represents nothing less than an attempt to have a realistic discourse about the human future while most of our leading intellectuals and politicians are still looking at that future through the rear-view mirror.

The Working Poor

According to, the working poor missed the benefits of the economic boom, but they definitely won’t miss the effects of the bust. The article references a report by The Working Poor Families Project, called “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short.” [Link to pdf]

From the article:

Nationally, 28 percent of families were deemed working poor in 2006, up from 27 percent in 2002 as parents spent more on housing and the number of low-paying jobs grew, the report found.

New Mexico ranked worst with 41 percent of working families considered low-income. New Hampshire had the lowest rate at 15 percent.

While the fortunes of low-wage workers worsened, the report paints a picture of those families that runs counter to some common beliefs. Struggling families typically worked more than 40 hours a week, while most were headed by parents who were 25 or older. Only a quarter received food stamps.

Blog Action Day: Poverty

A little-known fact about me: just out of college and eager to save the world, I worked with poverty programs for quite a few years, in fact (long story) that’s how I became a technology professional. The same idealism drove my later focus on the social web and online community. When I saw that this year’s Blog Action Day was about poverty, I quickly signed on, and I also signed on with local bloggers committed to the Blog Action Day project. (Some of my colleagues, like Bob Carlton, were thinking to spend a night at a homeless shelter.)

If you haven’t spent much time focused on poverty, it’s an abstraction, your perceptions based on random encounters with “the disadvantaged,” media coverage, and probably mental autofill based on your unschooled sense of what it would mean to be without appreciable income and resources. In my years as a caseworker, I saw a world that was hidden and unfamiliar. The poor are hidden from view both physically and conceptually. We’re in state of denial about poverty, and assume that people can only be poor because of their own shortcomings – it was common to hear that they’re “lazy, don’t want to work, want to live off the public dole.” I met few,if any, that fit that description. Many I met were working poor who never had the network of suppports and resources, the social safety net, that I had known. Some were sick. Some had spectacularly bad luck that persistently set them back. Some were destabilized by cycles of addiction and recovery. Many were only temporarily what you would call “poor,” and working hard to change their circumstances.

I met many whose lives had little of the structure I had known as an upper-middle-class white kid in West Texas – the structure and rhythms that set the stable path through school, through college, into a career. They were struggling with notions and disciplines that many of us take for granted. The “basic job skills” training programs were set up to create the habits and disciplines they’d missed.

One way to think about poverty: it has no single cause, and to talk about fixing the problem of poverty is like talking about curing disease – which disease? The cures vary, depending on the specifics of the condition.

On the other hand, many common diseases are associated with lifestyle, they’re systemic, and can be addressed by corrections to cultural systems and assumptions. Consider the negative health impact of efficient production and distribution of high-fat, high-calorie fast food, and the positive impact of retooling to produce fast foods that have less fat, fewer calories, more nutrition. I.e. just thinking about the problem, thinking about what has to change, taking relevant action yourself and demanding action from others, can have a positive effect.

So I think asking bloggers to focus on poverty is a great first step.


In my last post, I mentioned that I was one of a group of online community professionals who were attempting to help the Kerry campaign in 2004. Sanford Dickert, who brought us together, has posted his own account.

The team began to work on the plan – and, through the hard work of the people on the team, we had the initial draft that Jock shows on the Greater Democracy post by the self-imposed deadline. The challenge we had was, at that time – the campaign was focusing on fundraising, staffing up and the insanity behind building up for the coming Convention.

But it should be clear – that DemComm was another skunk-works project: no one in the senior staff (with the possible exception of the Dir of Internet) knew about DemComm. We all knew that the goal was to prepare a proposal for the campaign that would be guidance for development – and help in supporting Cam’s community solution. Cam’s proposal (which I think is still one of the better ideas the campaign generated at the time – combining the best parts of threaded discussions, forums AND blogging) – was not accepted due to cost concerns and potential political liabilities (“What if someone said something on a Kerry Community blog that was racist or anti-American? Even though it came from an outside user, it still is a Kerry-branded site…”) So, while we had some of the best people working on DemComm, the challenge was – as a priority, the community effort had a very different focus.

It’s part of a longer piece by Sanford, who I met at the Digital Democracy Teach-In we helped O’Reilly organize in 2004. I had been engaged in trying to corral the social technology and social media experts who had been involved in the various progressive campaigns that season, to find ways that we could work together to build stronger progressive networks. This led to the creation of an “activist technology” group and a very effective workshop Dan Robinson and I put together, and Jerry Michalski moderated, the day after SXSW Interactive ended in 2005. It also led to a sustained connection with Sanford and other collaborators he brought together with similar intentions. I think that, long-term, our efforts and commitment have paid off. I’ve been less involved in politics this season because I’ve been focused on creating a new business, because I’m more interested in supporting multipartisan grassroots efforts than candidate campaigns, and quite a bit because I think capable people are using the tools much more effectively in 2008… as Exley’s piece confirms. For more on the 2004 accelerated evolution of political technology, check out Extreme Democracy, a book Mitch Ratcliffe and I co-edited.

Zack Exley on “The New Organizers”

Zack Exley, who rejected a proposed plan a meeting to discuss a proposed plan for community-centric organizing offered to the Kerry campaign in 2004, writes at the Huffington Post about the Obama campaign’s success in incorporating the “netroots.”

The “New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so “top-down” and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or “bottom-up” organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization….Win or lose, “The New Organizers” have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation.

Obama’s people are extending the uses of technology documented in Extreme Democracy The Kerry campaign had an opportunity to go there in April 2004, but opted for a completely top-down approach, though a group of volunteers with experience in online commmunity, including Howard Rheingold, Nanci Meng, Tex Coate, Cameron Barrett, Jock Gill, Nancy White, Bob Jacobson, Aldon Hynes, Jerry Michalski and myself offered community organizing plans that could have been implemented with minimal overhead, leveraging technology and volunteers. Jock Gill wrote about this in 2006 at Greater Democracy. Jock posts text from the plan in comments.

Not faulting Zack, who was coming to the Kerry campaign from, an email-based organization brilliant at coordinating activist campaigns, but never effective using social technology to organize the “netroots.” We had been meeting with the Kerry campaign when he came on board and chose not to pursue the netroots approach, working instead with the moveon style of fundraising he knew best, under very real pressure to raise money for the campaign, leaving little time and mindshare for grassroots organizing, the effectiveness of which was iffy in the short term. What we were offering was risky in that it would have taken longer to build effectively, however if we had started then, there would have been a much stronger network of communities committed to the Democratic party, and Obama could arguably have grown his network better and faster. And it’s not that the netroots didn’t organize. Howard Dean continued working his networks to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a very effective netroots emerged through Daily Kos and other progressive hubs.

And the Obama campaign really understood the power of the technology, not just to support fundraising, but to organize effective networks and communities in support of their candidate. I suspect there’s a whole powerful Obama network that you don’t really see because of this focus on building support from the ground up rather than through more visible mass media. It will be very interesting to see the effect of this organizing on the November elections.

Additional note: I’ve been discussing the netroots in a two-week interview with Lowell Feld and Nate Wilcox, authors of Netroots Rising, in a public conversation on the WELL.

Social media for breakfast

Cross-posted from Social Web Strategies:

Peter Kim, who describes himself as a traditional marketing professional, gave an interesting talk at this morning’s Social Media Breakfast. He says at his site that he’s working on an enterprise social technology company, along with Kate Niederhoffer, who was also at the SMB, and my pal Doug Rushkoff, who’s “not from around here.” I’m mulling this over: he says he’s a traditional marketer but he’s helping build a social tech company, so there might be a contradiction here, especially given his talk, wherein he questioned whether social media really works for marketing. Actually, he led by questioning whether negative social media experiences (like fake blogs) had any impact on companies like Wal-Mart and Comcast… it’s not like their stock went south based on blogosphere or videosphere bad buzz. I pointed out, though, that the companies had done far worse without taking a huge hit. It’s a complicated world, and social media makes it even more so.

Another question Kim was asking was whether companies could scale their use of social media so that it could make a difference for them in a positive way, as part of their marketing efforts. Why are companies still spending three million on superbowl ads if social media can be effective? As always happens with new forms of media, at least early on the new doesn’t replace the old, it’s just another way of communicating. I think most of us who’ve been at this for quite a while suspect we’re seeing a revolution, the new converged media will be truly transformative, more and more so over time. I suspect Peter Kim sees that more clearly than he let on.

The talk got me thinking. Social media is complex, it’s niche, it’s political, it involves all sorts of personalities and personal quirks; user generated content requires monitoring or moderation or some kind of oversight, so there’s very real and possibly expensive social overhead. Some companies are jumping in and others are interested, but a social web strategy requires a lot of thought, and perception from new angles, flexing new brain muscles you didn’t know you had as you think your way into it. And you can’t own it in the same way you could own a top-down marketing campaign. In a sense, it owns you, and requires that you be authentic…

My friend Mike Chapman said at one point that “there are no rules. When you try to put rules around it, you break it.”

Thinking about poverty

At today’s Social Media Club, Bob Carlton and Mike Chapman filled me in on Bob’s plan for Blog Action Day. Bob wants to mobilize local bloggers to fill the 24-hour action day with posts that “capture the face of poverty in Austin today, focusing on the personal story behind the facts of living in poverty.”

A core team will focus on a street retreat immersion effort, delivering updates via Twitter, small video updates & audio segments, as well as scheduled webinars. By engaging with stories from a wide variety of voices & mediums, online readers in Austin will be immersed in an experience of what it means to live in poverty in Austin today.

I signed up to blog (7am-8am on October 15), and I’m giving it a lot of thought. In a past life, I worked with poverty programs for quite a few years, and I learned firsthand and from many perspectives about what it means to be poor. I haven’t thought about it in quite a while. I’m not sure I know what it’s like to be poor in the 21st century, though… and how much worse it will be with the harsher economic climate we seem to be facing.

$9 billion citizen journalism hit

At CNN’s, a “citizen journalist” calling himself “Johntw” posted a report that Steve Jobs had been rushed to the ER following a heart attack. Word spread to and beyond Digg, across Twitter. Apple stock dropped quickly, a $9 billion loss based on the rumor. Though iReport posts aren’t vetted, the CNN association probably lent credibility to the report. [Link]

The Jobs incident was the second time in a week that mainstream media organizations have been embarrassed by their online citizen journalism arms – sparking debate about the accuracy of reports from these Web sites and showing how it takes only a few minutes for a scurrilous rumor, placed on a site without sufficient editorial checks, to inflict damage.

So what’s the cure? A dozen years ago Bob Anderson and I were talking about the emerging new media ecology and the question of information authority in that context. We figured media literacy should be taught alongside reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Support critical thinking, not censorship or authoritarian structures for distributing information.

Education isn’t always enough, sometimes you really do need moderators, hopefully with a light touch. The SFGate story linked above says how sexually explicit photos were posted at CBS’mobile phone application site, after which CBS promised “to redouble its efforts to police content.” A moderator had quickly removed the photos. Some might argue that photos should be screened before they’re posted, and some sites would do it that way, but that’s a daunting task, especially where you may have thousands of posts, and it’s not in the spirit of the many-to-many mediasphere. CNN does have moderators for iReport, but they’re not checking facts… “mostly, it is the job of iReport users themselves to weed out erroneous or inappropriate material.” That’s the social media way – the “vetting” is crowdsourced, and the reader must read critically, never assuming that the “news source” is correct. I would argue that’s always been the case, even with the best journalists. I’ve never been close to a news story that wasn’t wrong in some of the particulars, at least from my perspective. And that’s part of the problem – perspectives and interpretations differ. That’s why I left journalism behind – when I was in journalism school, it seemed pretty clear that it would be hard to tell the truth. Only a few gonzo journalists, a la Hunter Thompson, realized they, and their biases, had to be transparent within the reporting…

Bacevich: let’s get our affairs in order

Maybe I’m a conservative, after all, because I was listening to Andrew Bacevich earlier today and nodding. Bacevich is a real conservative, not a neocon, and I’m thinking he’s got the right message … I was pretty excited by all he had to say:

  • The U.S. has become in empire of consumption, not production.
  • We assume that business must be built on credit, and not on productivity.
  • Americans (and others) are participating in a de facto Ponzi scheme, borrowing with the underlying assumption that the bills will never come due.
  • No one in politics seems to offer a politically plausible solution.
  • Trade imbalances are larger each year. Jimmy Carter was the one president who recognized the challenges awaiting if we refuse to get our house in order &ndash check out his “malaise” speech.
  • Freedom does not equal, or depend on, materialism. Quite the contrary.
  • We might have to modify what may be peripheral to preserver the core of the American way of life. Focus on the way we live and order our affairs.
  • At our best, we have focused on community, harmony, and the future. That last is important: we now think too little of the extent to which we put our children and grandchildren at risk as we squander our resources, which is the same as squandering our freedom.
  • We’re using military power to conceal the real implications of U.S. profligacy. Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 all assumed that power can “fix the world” to sustain our dysfunctional system.
  • We have created an imperial presidency, and congress no longer articulates a visoin of the common good.
  • The National Security State build around the president doesn’t work – it didn’t predict 9/11 or plan effectively for the war in Iraq.
  • No one in Washington DC knows what they’re doing.

At least, that’s what I thought I heard him say… and I’m ready to work on solutions. My business partner, David Armistead, and I are already working on something that might be helpful.

Check out the Bacevich interview on Bill Moyers’ Journal.


Happy Birthday to Sputnik 1, launched 51 years ago today. Those of us who lived and breathed comics and science fiction saw an inevitable first step toward space exploration, and we picked up on the omigod vibe that the Russians beat us to it. Of course we didn’t see the whole picture, which you can get from Nova’s “Sputnik Declassified” – we didn’t get that the space race was about military surveillance, not scienterrific exploration of the cosmos. If you think Reagan’s “star wars” plan, the Strategic Defense Initiative, was new thinking, guess again. Eisenhower was already there.

Check out PBS’s Space Race Timeline.

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