Saturday, January 16, 2010

Smarter Response seen to Haiti Disaster

About two decades ago, I recruited a small team of law students to assist with legal aid efforts at the Haitian Resource Center in Miami. We were motivated and proud to be helpful, but the infrastructure was quite primitive compared to today; the two 386-powered PCs I brought alone greatly increased the amount of documentation we were able to churn out during our short stay. (I will always be grateful to the ex-girlfriend who donated one of them to the HRC - thanks Andy!) The HRC was a great organization and I am proud to have been helpful in a small way, but there was significant overhead in having to physically travel and share information via paper, and no real opportunity to create an enduring social network to facilitate further efforts.

Today, the first thought on the the death, maiming and further impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of Haitians which has quite properly occupied our attention for days is that we owe at least a moment of silence for those who have died.

Amid the gloom, the good news is that the world is reacting better, faster, smarter than before. It is tempting to note that in part this is because our own United States has a leader interested in responding to disasters than playing air guitar or having birthday cake with a crony. But of far more significance is not the role of any individual, but of the voluntary network of millions of individuals, a network that is far more intelligent than in the last decade, and that is learning fast.

It is physically difficult for aid outside of the island of Hispaniola to reach the Haitian disaster is almost a laboratory, so the abilities of the worldbrain is being tested in ways different from Katrina or the Indian Ocean Tsunami. First the mobilization of facts is faster than ever, using not only official channels but self-organizing groups such as Crisis Mappers Net. There's a lot of links to suchlike at Beth Kanter's "Haiti Earthquake: Orphans, Crisis Mapping, and Tech Volunteers"/

The mobilization of resources is vastly improved with "mobile giving" cellphone donations and much easier tools to check on the validity of charities. It is awfully encouraging to be reminded that if you ask someone to through $5 or $10 into the pot to help people they've never met and never will, a huge number of people will; all that they want, for the most part, is to be sure the money will be used well.

Now, there are the usual passel of assholes using this disaster to rail at Obama or liberals or even the Haitians themselves, accusing them of having sold themselves to the devils. (No links provided; you can find them easily enough.) I guess there must be some people who believe that stuff because the assholes are still selling ad time on radio and TV. But I doubt their target audience is the young and growing demographic that is leading the growth of the intelligent network; their factual claims are so easily disproven by the intelligence of the network and the network response is wholly at odds with the assholes' advice. There is reason to hope that these will pass away, unlamented but sadly raging to the last. I am tempted to denounce them with righteous denouncement but that's playing their game; spiritual leaders from Jesus to the Dalai Lama have a better way.

Let's keep doing what we can to help our neighbors who we cannot physically reach, and be encouraged that we are able to work together more effectively than even a few years before.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Word Negro, Harry Reid, and I Have A Dream

Thinking about Harry Reid's use of the word Negro, I decided to look at the words of another man of his generation, who sadly is no longer among us:
"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
"I Have A Dream"
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
May we put to rest the idea that the use of the word "Negro" is racist?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Game Developer Magazine: Why I Like It!

All the world's a game and we are but players of it.
That's why  I read, enjoy and learn from Game Developer Magazine.

Game design is in large part a exercise in practical psycholoy. Successful games can be fantastically profitable; clunkers are worthless; there is therefore a huge incentive for the development team to understand people in a practical way. GDM's subject matter reflects that concern, with articles exploring subjects such as "What Is Fun?" in a systematic way. If you can figure out what makes people enjoy something enough to do it over and over, pay money for more of the same, and recommend to their friends, the application potential of this knowledge extends far beyond gaming.

This month's issue lead off with an editor's note on Nintendo's Wii, pointing out that its success was due to far more than its technology; primitive motion sensors such as light guns have been around for a while and were never market-crushers. Wii's key advantage may be its appeal to a large, yet under served audience. Wii has little impact on the First-Person Shooter and Real-Time Strategy fans that dominate computer games, but Wii owns the family-friendly market, which includes the last generations' FTS heads who now have kids. This strategic approach, obscured or enabled by tech innovation, also has applications far beyond gaming.

A secondary important GDM feature is a project evaluation in every issue. They ask a lead in a popular and successful product to describe 5 things that went right and 5 that went wrong. These very practical pointers are sometimes pretty technical (after all, the magazine is directed to a particular audience) but never fails to yield about 5 quick anecdotes on project management that (?see the pattern?) has applications beyond gaming.

GDM is ad-supported, which is to say: free to qualified subscribers. If you're willing to accept gamin as a learning experience in whatever field you practice, train and/or educate, consider reading GDM. You won't be bored!

More information at