31 December 2007


Not that anyone reads this blog but I've been on hiatus for the past month or so. Gobs and gobs of work, class, family and holiday commitments. Back for a month or so until classes resume.

19 November 2007

Google's Android Platform

I'm excited about the Android mobile phone platform and SDK coming out of Google. Here's the "official" overview:

13 September 2007

First Sign of the Apocalypse?

"Sun Microsystems Inc., once one of the most vociferous opponents of Microsoft Corp. and Windows, now plans to resell the operating system."

28 August 2007

A Game-theoretic Framework for Creating Optimal SLA/Contract

Intriguing paper. Game theory is certainly a key tools of negotiations, conflict resolution, optimal cooperation problems, etc. Very interesting to see it applied in a practical manner to IT-related contracts.

Abstract: An SLA/Contract is an agreement between a client and a service provider. It specifies desired levels of service and penalties in case of default. It is of interest from the Service Providers point of view, to determine the optimal contract, that will maximize its utility. In this work we model the situation based on the notion of Moral Hazard: providing a good service is costly and results are affected by the resources involved. As a consequence, a credible contract must fulfill the incentive compatibility constraint. We extend the above model to take into account the possibility that there might different types of clients, and that the Service Provider will offer a menu of contracts intended for each of these clients, as a means of maximizing utility. From the Service Providers point of view, finding an optimal contract will consist of solving a nonlinear optimization problem subject to constraints. We derive conditions under which these constraints will take a simple form and we analyze a scenario, in which, the randomness comes from the Response Time of a given IT Service, and the input is the number of servers that will be dedicated to each client.

25 August 2007

Reading List #6

I'm winding down from vacation so here's another Reading List comprised of three selections obtained from Sherman's Books & Stationary in Freeport, Maine:


Reading List #5

During a lovely week relaxing in York Beach, Maine, the following books were either started or finished:


16 August 2007

'Sunk costs' and the war

University of San Francisco economics professor Bruce Wydick has an exceptionally clear op-ed piece in the 15 August 2007 issue of USA Today regarding America's involvement in the Iraq war.

14 August 2007

It's Wikilicious!

The hype du jour is that a clever analysis tool for wikipedia entries and interesting/entertaining sources that edit/massacre/delete entries that pertain to themselves now exists.

* (I don't recall where I read this first today but to keep things on the up-and-up it was either Slashdot or Wired through my feed reader).

It seems that one can data-mine *.wikipedia.org via online search or download of a snapshot image with all previous edits, a la a useful audit trail. OK, that doesn't seem too interesting. Until...one looks at the sources of the edits and the effects and affects of these edits.

This is a perfect example, without drawing attention to myself, of the difference between data and information and the relation between the two. Data is available...it's up to individuals or processes to transform, and hopefully protect, it into information.

13 August 2007

The New Age of Ignorance

As a follow-up to my last post concerning the systemic and intentional attempts to dissuade students from studying mathematics, I thought I would just offer a pointer to this, by way of the Edge, article from The Guardian:

The New Age of Ignorance

We take our young children to science museums, then as they get older we stop. In spite of threats like global warming and avian flu, most adults have very little understanding of how the world works.

Mathematics: Seriously, Just Say "No!"

In a previous post, I commented on a trend in the UK where students were being discouraged from taking "unnecessary," higher level mathematics classes. By way of Slashdot, it seems that is is an issue in Australia as well. The poster states and asks:

"The claim is that Australian schools are actively discouraging students from taking upper level math courses to boost their academic results on school league tables. How widespread is this phenomenon? Are schools taking similar measures in the US and Canada?"

I ask again: Will science education in the classroom be dead by the time my kids go to school?

02 August 2007

Data v. Information

I had fun with a previous post regarding a data visualization tool called many eyes, from IBM alphaWorks Services. There are some nice graphing templates available but pretty graphs simply do not the wonderful experience make. OpenOffice CALC and Microsoft Excel can produce a multitude of graphs in a variety of canned formats but do they really assist in helping one understand the data being presented to them.

Are they capable though, as tools, to transform data into information? The distinction may or may not be a subtle but the implications are huge. We're generally over-run with data and consider so much of it to be throw-away. Information, however - information being data with some sort of context applied to it - one holds onto as long as possible because the context applied to the data, the transform or function applied to some data set, increases the data's value and elevates it to that of information.

Consider a couple of simple examples:

What does this string of data mean, if anything: 011903124555555
  1. Well, it could be a random string of 16 digits and not very interesting (highly likely).
  2. Out-of-country phone dialing number? (yes, US Embassy in Turkey)
  3. Credit card number? (same format for Visa/MasterCard but not a valid number)
  4. USPS/FedEx/UPS/DHL tracking number? (UPS if you drop their "1Z" prefix)
  5. US social security number? (Massachusetts SSN with some cruft appended to the end).
  6. Product SKU (I seem to recall that there are standardized SKU formats)
We just don't know, without any context applied to it. Now, what if we thought about another string of digits in the context of identity theft:

  • 034011234,Last,First,Acct#

Huh...that looks important and maybe should be protected. Maybe it's a person with an account # and MA SSN on-record. The problem though, is that if the suspect data were changed to be:

  • Acct#,034011234,Last,First

It could become meaningless because the transformation changed through simple re-ordering of data elements and the context may no longer be identifiable therefore leaving the data as data. There's a good chance, however, in this specific case that the context could be inferred. What happens if we eliminate the comma delimiters and just spew a line of text in the hope that it will be properly caught and processed?

  • Acct#034011234LastFirst

Here we have an example where Acct# and SSN have been concatenated and probably lose meaning outside of the process that knows to stop reading the Acct# field after X characters and read the next nine characters as the SSN. First and last names can be extremely difficult to distinguish without capitalization and/or localized knowledge of standard names. Michael Smith may mean nothing to a non-English speaker.

So what does this mean from a practical point of view? Without waxing philosophical, from an information security and protection standpoint, it is an extremely compelling reason to give serious consideration to Translucent Databases, which I will post about at a future point in time.

25 July 2007

Finally...A Use For Twitter

Until recently, I've found Twitter to be the single most annoying and useless fad since NeoPets and Tamagotchi toys. I still have absolutely no interest in, nor do I understand the fascination with virtual pets. I may be coming around to Twitter however.

The Lifehacker folks are atwitter for Twitter and using it as a productivity-boosting tool as opposed to a sort of micro-blogging platform:
Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing. For some friends you might want instant mobile updates—for others, you can just check the web. Invite your friends to Twitter and decide how connected you want you to be.

I personally don't have much interest in what my friends or family are doing every second of the day or where they are at any arbitrary time when I am not in direct contact with them. Maybe I'm just stubborn and still prefer email, a telephone call, maybe some Blackberry love, or - heaven forbid - face-to-face interactions.

However, following two previous posts concerning access to interesting data sets and an interesting data visualization tool, I noticed My Mile Marker.

Being a bit of a data wonk, I immediately jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon so I could send SMS messages to M3 from the gas pump and fulfill my need for immediate gratification (which may seem like a strange thing when you're generating and collecting data for future analysis). M3 account creation was easier than easy.

M3 has a nice interface and provides some tracking and reporting tools.

I like this idea because I usually compute my fuel consumption when I fill my gas tank but it's nothing I track beyond each fill. I notice trends such as getting 50 fewer miles range per tank or averaging 2 MPG more than usual. I like the idea of viewing fuel consumption trends and identifying when, for example, I added air to the car's tires, changed the engine oil or the gas station began adding more ETOH as it gets colder in New England.

We'll see how this goes.

24 July 2007

On Virtualization

Now, I don't know how far it has been considered in academia or industry but, excuse me if I am naive or simply unaware, virtualization, specifically paravirtualization, could be immensely useful to systems requiring a 1) minimal OS footprint with the ability to swap images in near-real-time, 2) an "online OS" or 3) an OS running on a virtual machine.

  1. Set-top boxes such as (my favorite) the Moxi box or a TiVo could run multiple virtualized guest images, for the sake of a manufacturer upgrading feature sets or remediating flaws, over a consistent, hardened host image that only provides a bootstrapping facility the guest images. Through paravirtualization, presumably, hardware sharing and optimization functions, such as video capture and display/replay, could also be virtualized and provide for a transparent user experience as the various operating images are propagated to customers (presumably over multicast...I mean cable pay-per-view). Additionally, it could also offer rapid roll-back in the event of an image push and a call center flooded with complaints about set-top boxes that no longer work.

  2. Ah, the "online OS." Everything Google does has an entire industry wondering if they are preparing for a browser-based, online OS. Browser-based with bootstrapping through a browser's existing JVM (or something similar)? Others are obviously thinking about this more topically than myself:

    "a bunch of startups like YouOS , Goowy, DesktopTwo, Xin and open source eyeOS are already tackling this exact problem"

    Maybe In a way, Sun is already doing it with their Sun Secure Global Desktop Software (wicked demo, BTW). Sun licensed Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) technology in order to do some of this and the result is as smooth as a MS Terminal Services/RDP session but with dedicated, thin client hardware and a java-based smart card that allows a user to disconnect and later reconnect, at an arbitrary location, and have their last session in-place.

  3. In a way, an arbitrary OS running on a virtual machine is sort of cool but mostly, "this is what virtualization is all about, slow to the table commentator." The Sun solution mentioned above can be considered in this light. Microsoft Terminal Services can use a thick client or browser-based end-user environment and still provide seamless connectivity.
So, I'm probably well behind the curve on this one as far as experimenting with the technologies but at least, to the uninitiated, there seem to be some useful implementation possibilities.

18 July 2007

So You Say It's Your Birthday?

Today I am at the age where I:

  • may not experience another birthday defined by the product of twin primes
  • will not experience another birthday defined by the product of twin Mersenne primes
  • will hopefully experience another birthday defined by the product of cousin primes
  • probably will not experience the first three digit palindromic prime
  • may not experience another birthday defined by the sum of nth and nth+1 primes

I'm not sure this trivia makes me any happier :(

Remember OpenDoc?

I stumbled on this hysterical spoof of the "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" ads a while ago and nearly wet myself laughing. Almost everyone has an obligatory Newton reference when recalling great Apple ideas that were a bit too far ahead of their times. I'll skip the Newton reference and just start in with OpenDoc.

First off, Apple even seems a wee bit bitter when referencing their ideas and tech that never went anywhere. This is the best you can get from them on OpenDoc:

Reference Library

Legacy Technologies

Legacy documents consist of guides, references, sample code, and other resources that have become irrelevant for current product development. Some of these documents describe features, functions, classes, or methods that are no longer supported. Other legacy documents describe currently supported technologies, but the approaches and development techniques described in these documents are no longer recommended.

. . .

OpenDoc is a cross-platform technology that replaces conventional applications with user-assembled groups of software components. OpenDoc allows users to create virtually any kind of custom software solution. OpenDoc is not supported in Carbon.

OpenDoc met its end in a stand-off with Java that never really was a stand-off; they were complementary in the sense that you could develop OpenDoc objects in Java or what every language you preferred (Think C/C++ anyone?). Apple was having a bad day (OK, a series of years) financially, Java was the sweetheart of the internet du jour (second only to Helen) and Microsoft was first to market with OLE (object linking and embedding).

The true beauty of OpenDoc, IMO, was the ability to embed arbitrary objects into arbitrary "containers" as well as extending the container objects. Abstraction, encapsulation, inheritance, and polymorphism; traditional object-oriented topics, implemented well ahead of their time, as far as data formats are concerned.

The Palm Pilot (and its derivatives) was to the Newton as XML (and its extenstions) was to OpenDoc.

17 July 2007

Microsoft Goes All Wishy-Washy?

Microsoft has historically been considered a rough-and-tumble company who chews up and spits out others firms like a lumberjack with a mouth full of tobacco. Three fairly recent instances however have me a bit confused about their image.

  1. Microsoft claims Linux infringes on hundreds of its patents. The FOSS community goes bonkers. Microsoft refuses to state which patents have been infringed upon. Still no group hug to make up.

    So...Microsoft is emulating SCO but with a substantially larger legal war chest?

  2. Via BetaNews, "In a policy document specifically timed for release this afternoon, Microsoft's general managers for interoperability, Tom Robertson and Jean Paoli, make a play for ownership of the standards issue facing users of competing document formats, by saying the company would support ratification of its own Open XML format along with OpenDocument Format (ODF) as ISO standards, if and only if doing so would promote choice among the world's consumers."

  3. No comment here. I'm still miffed over Massachusetts gutting its CIO's power and appointing Brian Burke, a MS anti-ODF lobbyist to the Governor's Technology Advisory Group.

  4. "Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications (RIAs) for the Web. The Silverlight 1.0 Beta has a go-live license that implies it can be used for commercial purposes."

    It implies it can be used for commercial purposes??? I was happy, however, to see the following on the installation page:

    "For Mozilla Firefox users:
    Save Silverlight.1.0beta.exe to your hard disk. Once the download is finished, click Open. The installation starts."

13 July 2007

Fun With Data Visualization

My last post noted Data360.org and the impressive number of data sets they have available. I just stumbled on a new data visualization tool from IBM called many eyes so....

I grabbed an oil reserve data set from the US Energy Information Administration, by way of Data360.org, massaged it a bit in OpenOffice and fed it into many eyes. Click, click, click and you're provided with a pretty slick visualization.

Go. Go and play.

12 July 2007

Fun Site for Data Wonks

Loads of fun. It's like Wikipedia for data and analysis.

17 June 2007

Is 740 the new 520?

Recently, sub-prime mortgage lending has made the news amid fears that there may be as many as 2.2 million new forclosures in the US in the coming year. In the Boston Globe a while back, Thomas Callahan summarize:

"NOW THAT everyone is paying attention, let's review how we got here: Subprime loans became the mortgage flavor of the day several years ago. The worst kind of lenders preyed on the universal yearning for the American Dream -- homeownership -- and too often targeted African-Americans and Latinos with alluring, affordable, and ultimately deceptive sales pitches.

. . .

These are not just run-of-the-mill high cost loans. Subprime lenders keep coming up with new products and new gimmicks. That is why there has been a proliferation of 'stated income' loans and interest-only loans. These products have been around awhile but they had a limited use until brokers and mortgage companies started selling them to average consumers who didn't have a realistic chance of paying the mortgage."

In a way, sub-prime lending in the mortgage market is a bit like...like what? Let's construct a shady example that unfortunately, I've been told happens more often than it should.

A mortgage broker woos potential borrowers with wonderful terms and immediately flips the loan after closing it. OK, perhaps the broker over-sold to an under-qualified borrower but that's not their problem any longer. Nor is it their problem really when they out and out misrepresent a potential borrower. The result is a lender that now has an at greater risk borrower that it would have accepted otherwise. What to do? Flip the loan. This cycle can continue, based on other criteria as well, until the loan is paid-off or the borrower defaults. Musical chairs or hot potato with a large loan.

Excluding the boring case where the borrower pays the loan off in-full, without incident, the end result is a loan in default because a borrower was misrepresented to a lender. Most people still need to borrow in order to finance large purchases, such as houses. Sub-prime mortgage lending will continue to persist in some manner because of this; people need houses. Less than ideal borrowers will need to, in some way, boost their all-important credit scores since, no matter what anyone says, you are just a score.

There are positive financial incentives to every party involved except the unfortunate lender holding the note when the risk-deflated borrower defaults. Not knowing when or if that event will occur is the risk. If there was no risk involved, there would be no sub-prime lending markets; all borrowers would be identical. Since this is not the case, borrowers need to be differentiated in some manner and this will continue to be the credit score, for better or for worse.

The potential problem at hand then is the renormalization of misrepresented credit scores and how that could affect better borrowers and risk-adverse lenders. Borrowers that previously would not qualify for certain lending options would have their scores inflated in order to qualify. Typical borrowers would remain the same or possibly be a bit inflated as well. In other words, the typical ranges of credit scores would begin to contract while the upper bound would remain the same.

520 would be scaled to 720.

10 June 2007

Recapitulation Theory and Second Life

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

Internet Timeline: everything pre-Mosaic can be considered to be proto-web...extremely necessary from an evolutionary perspective but just not that sexy (like a caveman in a Speedo).

Second Life Timeline: in the beginning there was Real Life and it was fine but we got bored and started creating MUDs and MUSHes and the like but our kids thought we were weird until we installed SimCity for them so they would stay off our backs but it backfired and we ourselves became obsessed with Godzilla laying waste to our hard work for a few years until there was no reason to limit ourselves to simulating a city or life or an ant colony, no, we could simulate ourselves and everything we hoped and aspired to be and those around us in The Sims which taught us all how comfortable we could feel in drag or engaged in virtual infidelity or strafing a city block while trying to steal the helicopter...wait, wrong game, back up...all of this kept us satiated until we discovered (drum roll followed by hush)...Second Life.


So we have First Life (to those of us who think that art imitates life) and Second Life (to those of us who think that life imitates art). The internet as we know it slowly evolved until it reached a tipping point, i.e. the creation and release of the Mosaic web browser. After that, to many, it all went spiraling down the toilet, what with the massively increasing onslaught of spam, porn, commercialization of something that was pure, etc, etc, etc.

I don't completely agree nor disagree with the idea that the Internet has devolved into something crass and no longer meaningful. What I find terribly interesting, however, is the way in which SL is to a large extent, mimicking the evolution of the Internet as a whole.

Porn, rampant capitalism, porn, spam glorious spam, porn, activism and/or terrorism, porn....

So, is SL ontogeny to the Internet's phylogeny?

01 June 2007

Why Is Gas So Freakin' Expensive?

Excellent essay describing the various forces at play regarding gasoline pricing (by way of the Freakonomics Blog).

23 May 2007

Google Trends - Part 2 - American Idol

OK, I've been tangentially aware of American Idol for the past few years and have seen it a few times so I'm not interested in getting on a soapbox and critique "reality TV" or offer commentary on the competitors. What I am interested in, however, is how the recent rise in popularity in Google's Trends tracking, could act as a predictive analysis tool, aimed at larger...things....

So...American Idol has already aired (presumably concluded) for the night here on the east coast of the US so I'll fill-in a bit of background for the uninitiated (like myself, really): after some recurring period of group talent contests, two contestants are left in competition, after some number have been voted off of the show by popular opinion, one week at a time. The winner of the contest will be decided by popular opinion as well.

And...the winner is...huh, nothing posted to the official American Idol site. I guess I'll post more about Google Trends and predictive analysis as soon as I have some sort of official results to go with for verification.

Shame...I was getting interested but now tired as the night progresses. Sigh....


OK, Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks were the final two contestants on the show and Ms. Sparks won by popular vote. What happens if we plug both of their names into Google Trends? Well, currently, the results are disappointing as Google Trends is still a beta/lab product and there isn't any current, searchable trend data for yesterday. Let's see if there is anything to be gleaned from the 100 hottest searches for 23 May 2007.

OK, a search for "jordin sparks" was the 12th most popular search on the day of the show's season finale with search activity peaking around 2100 EDT. "blake lewis" is nowhere to be found in the top 100. Does this mean anything as far as being a potentially useful prediction tool? Is it more or less significant that guest performers on the show - Smokey Robinson (#1), Gladys Knight (#5), Tony Bennett (#6), Bette Midler (#7) and Joe Perry (#10) - were more popular searches, between 2000-2100 EDT, than Jordin Sparks?

Perhaps Ms. Sparks became the clear popular favorite during the day. Let's see what the previous day had for searches related to Ms. Sparks and Mr. Lewis.


The closest search was for "american idol winner" (#9 on 22 May and #2 on 23 May). So, maybe search trends aren't terribly useful for predictive analysis. Maybe there isn't enough data available at the moment. Let's see who the finalists were last season and plug them into Google Trends...

Taylor Hicks won the season 5 contest and Katherine McPhee was runner-up on the 24 May 2006 season finale. The Google Trends results appear to clearly support Mr. Hicks the days leading into the competition:

"taylor hicks" "katherine mcphee"

Let's look at season 4 for the fun of it. Carrie Underwood won the season 4 contest and Bo Bice was runner-up on the 25 May 2005 season finale. Shaking the Google Magic 8 Ball shows...nothing useful:

"carrie underwood" "bo bice"

They're tied until the next day when everyone is trying to find out more about the winner. Having access to the vote tallies could describe this if the popular count goes nearly 50%-50% for the contestants.

Might as well look at the 2004 season since Google has the data to play with. On the 26 May 2005 season finale, Fantasia Barrino won over Diana DeGarmo. Reading the Google tea leaves shows...more nothing.

"fantasia barrino" "diana degarmo"

If anything, Ms. DeGarmo may have had a slight popular lead entering the vote.

Have we learned anything? No, probably not; at least not from a predictive analysis point of view. If I think of it in the coming months I'll come back and see if Google has search/trend data available to cover this most recent season.

Google Trends - Part 1

Huh...loads of news regarding Google Trends' new functionality: regularly updated info listing the most popular search trends/terms. In one manner, this is obvious - Google has the search data available to them at any given point in time through, presumably, numerous search entry points or via a search funnel. It also makes perfect sense that this functionality, the ability to see what your peers or organization or group is searching for, would be pushed down to the Google Search Appliance at some point.

That's really the interesting addition in my opinion: by localizing search trends, through the GSA or adding a new search primitive, such as fromDomain:, fromIpAddress: or fromNetBlock: (in the same way that the site: or url: search primitives are available now), search/trend consumers would have the ability, from a social networking perspective, to learn what is being searched for, relative to themselves in their own localized search bubble.

Let's consider an example:

Say you're a faculty member at a university and you're vaguely aware of a new collective bargaining vote that's upcoming and you want to know more. You search Google and find press releases and maybe a few local area newspaper items that have been indexed. This is the way in which we normally search or engage in absolute searches, modulo intentional deletions or censoring of search results, etc. Say you're a Google Master and break-out your Google-fu and attempt a more granular search through the selective use of one or two Google search primitives, for example, site:GoogleU.edu. Great! You weren't interested in what was being reported through channels on the other side of the country anyway.

Is this enough? Are the results sufficient in order for a search consumer to best utilize the data provided? Maybe, but it could more than likely be better by taking into account the context of the search results.

Now, say that advanced, localized trending were available to the faculty member. S/he would be able to search, relative to the university community or a specific department or a specific demographic, and determine what his/her peers are searching for, in the hope of learning about key issues being addressed at the collective bargaining vote. Add in the capabilities for search trends and results to be presented in such a way that they can be ordered or grouped and the faculty member may find him/herself better in the know and ready to cast an educated vote.

So...search, trends and localization step up as the latest social networking platform.

I wonder what I spend most of my time searching for and if anyone else cares?

BSO - Boston Pops!

Last night was the opening night of the latest Film Night series with John Williams returning to the Pops to conduct.

"This year’s 'Film Night' concerts also feature the iconic music of musicals that have become movies, tunes that resonate on stage as well as the silver screen. The program will be performed at 8 p.m., May 22-26, at Symphony Hall. The program opens with a tribute to Academy Award-winning composer Bernard Herrmann and his music from such legendary films as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. Mr. Williams also leads 'America’s Orchestra' in the timeless music that has made the leap from Broadway to Hollywood, including 'All That Jazz' from Chicago and highlights from Fiddler on the Roof with Boston Pops concertmaster Tamara Smirnova.

Mr. Williams, a favorite at Symphony Hall for more than a quarter-century, closes the Boston Pops’ 'Film Night' programs leading his own music from such blockbusters as Superman and the Harry Potter series. In a special Pops tribute to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Mr. Williams also conducts music from Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T., accompanied by film clips from these memorable movies."

It was a wonderful evening with wonderful music and a wonderful meal at Brasserie JO in the Boston Colonnade Hotel.

Where Does Your Paycheck Go? - Update

I previously blogged about the allocation of my personal income as well as the US government's revenues. The Simple Dollar explores the same idea in a 20 May 2007 post, Figuring Out Exactly How Much Your Time Is Worth.

They started the year with an interesting series: 31 Days To Fix Your Finances. The Simple Dollar comes to us by way of the always useful and entertaining Lifehacker.

21 May 2007

Language Skills

A friend lamented yesterday that he didn't know a language other than his native tongue and that he had never really left his home country. Up until a few years ago, I was in the same boat. While I can't do much for sending someone to foreign locales, here are a few options for acquiring new language skills:

If anyone else has suggestions, I'd love to know them.

26 April 2007

Mathematics: Just Say No!

I previously wondered what the state of science education would be like when my children go to school. Now I know: "Pupils are being discouraged from taking A-level maths as schools in England chase higher places in the league tables."

"The Royal Society of Chemistry said that as maths was a difficult subject, schools feared examination failures which would threaten their standings. Chief executive Richard Pike also said universities were increasingly having to run remedial classes in maths.

. . .

Dr Pike said: 'Schools and students are reluctant to consider A-level mathematics to age 18, because the subject is regarded as difficult, and with league tables and university entrance governed by A-level points, easier subjects are taken.'"

I don't have a background in mathematical education but was an applied mathematics undergrad at UConn where there were a surprising number of "math-ed" students.

A quick search through the AMS archives found this collection of articles on mathematics education in NOTICES of the American Mathematical Society.

House Resolution To Impeach Cheney?

WTF??? Did Rep. Dennis Kucinich just crib the entire GQ piece, The People v. Richard Cheney, and submit it as an original proposal?


Supporting Documents for H Res 333

Synopsis of Resolution

Text of Resolution as Introduced in the House of Representatives

Letter to Vice President Cheney

Brief summary of impeachment procedure

Supporting Documents for Article I

Article I (1)(A): Transcripts of March 17, 2002 Press Conference by Vice President Dick Cheney and His Highness Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain at Shaikh Hamad Palace.

Article I (1)(B): Transcripts of March 19, 2002 Press Briefing by Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.

Article I (1)(C): Transcripts of March 24, 2002 Wolf Blitzer interview of Vice President Cheney on CNN’s Late Edition.

Article I (1)(D): Transcripts of May 19, 2002 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article I (1)(E): Speech of Vice President Cheney at VFW 103rd National Convention on August 26, 2002.

Article I (1)(F & G): Transcripts of September 8, 2002 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article I (1)(H): Transcripts of March 16, 2003 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article I (2)(A): Pincus, Walter and Priest, Dana. “Some Iraq Analysts Felt Pressure From Cheney Visits.” Washington Post 5 June 2003: A01.

Article I (2)(B): Hersh, Seymour M. “The Stovepipe.” The New Yorker 27 October 2003.

Article I (3)(A): National Intelligence Estimate, October 1, 2002. pg. 9

Article I (3)(B): National Intelligence Estimate, October 1, 2002. pg. 84

Article I (3)(C): National Intelligence Estimate, October 1, 2002. pg. 9

United States service member deaths: Department of Defense Casualty Report

Iraqi civilian deaths: Lancet Report

Cost of the war: CRS report RL33110

Loss of military readiness: Korb, Lawrence. “A troop readiness crisis.” Boston Globe 11 April 2007.

Supporting Documents for Article II

Article II (1)(A): Speech of Vice President Cheney at the Air National Guard Senior Leadership Conference on December 2, 2002.

Article II (1)(B): Speech of Vice President Cheney to 30th Political Action Conference in Arlington, Virginia on January 30, 2003.

Article II (1)(C): Transcripts of March 16, 2003 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article II (1)(D): Transcripts of September 14, 2003 Tim Russert interview with Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Article II (1)(E): Speech of Vice President Cheney at Bush-Cheney '04 Fundraiser in Iowa on October 3, 2003.

Article II (1)(F): Speech of Vice President Cheney to the Heritage Foundation on October 10, 2003.

Article II (1)(G): Hayes, Stephen. “Cheney v. Powell.” The Weekly Standard 13 January 2004.

Article II (1)(H): Transcripts of January 22, 2004 Juan Williams interview with Vice President Cheney on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Article II (1)(I): Transcripts of June 17, 2004 Gloria Borger interview with Vice President Cheney on CNBC’s Capital Report.

Article II (2)(A): Waas, Murray. “Key Bush Intelligence Briefing Kept From Hill Panel.” National Journal 22 November 2005.

Article II (2)(B): Jehl, Douglas. “Report Warned Bush Team About Intelligence Doubts.” New York Times 6 November 2005.

Article II (2)(C): “Leaked Report Rejects Iraqi al-Qaeda link.” BBC News 5 February 2003.

United States service member deaths: Department of Defense Casualty Report

Iraqi civilian deaths: Lancet Report

Cost of the war: CRS report RL33110

Loss of military readiness: Korb, Lawrence. “A troop readiness crisis.” Boston Globe 11 April 2007.

Supporting Documents for Article III

Article III (1)(A): Speech of Vice President Cheney to American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2006 Policy Conference on March 7, 2006.

Article III (1)(B): Transcripts of January 24, 2007 Wolf Blitzer interview with Vice President Cheney on CNN’s Situation Room.

Article III (1)(C): Transcripts of January 28, 2007 Richard Wolffe interview with Vice President Cheney for Newsweek Magazine.

Article III (1)(D): Transcripts of February 24, 2007 Press Briefing with Vice President Cheney and Australian Prime Minister in Sydney, Australia.

Article III (2)(A): Transcripts of February 19, 2007 Daniel Dombey interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei for the Financial Times.

Article III (2)(B): International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors Report, February 22, 2007.

Article III (2)(C): Transcripts of February 19, 2007 Daniel Dombey interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei for the Financial Times.

Article III (3)(A): Hirsh, Michael. “Hirsh: A Failed Shot at Peace with Iran?” Newsweek 8 February 2007.

Article III (3)(B): Abramowitz, Michael. “Cheney Says U.S. Is Sending ‘Strong Signal’ to Iran.” Washington Post 29 January 2007: A02.

Article III (3)(C): Hersh, Seymour M. “The Iran Plans.” The New Yorker 17 April 2006.

Article III (3)(D): Londono, Ernest and al-Izzi, Saad. “Iraq Intensifies Efforts to Expel Iranian Group.” Washington Post 14 March 2007: A10.

Article III (3)(E): Hersh, Seymour M. “The Iran Plans.” The New Yorker 17 April 2006.

Article III (4)(A): Article VI of Constitution of the United States of America.

Article III (4)(B): Chapter I, Article 2 of Charter of the United Nations

Article III (4)(C): Chapter VII, Article 51 of Charter of the United Nations

19 April 2007

Where Does Your Paycheck Go? - revisited

A previous post regarding how my personal paycheck is allocated each week left me thinking that I need to start devoting some of my available income to the tax for people who are bad at math or find a long, lost, wealthy relative. As it turns out, the kind public servants at the US Government Printing Office care about how its paycheck, US tax revenues, is allocated as well. Originally, John W. Schoen at MSNBC responds to the question, "Where do my income tax dollars go?" The answers are later distilled by the Consumerist (with hourly tallies included by yours truly):

  • Health Care: $219.40 - 8.78 hours
  • Social Security: $206.60 - 8.26 hours
  • Military: $196.50 - 7.86 hours
  • Income Security (Unemployment insurance, food and housing, retirement for federal workers, etc): $132.70 - 5.31 hours
  • Interest on Debt (The US Government's Version of Credit Card Payments): $85.30 - 3.41 hours
  • Transportation: $26.50 - 1.06 hours
  • Colleges: $19.00 - 0.76 hours
  • Federal disaster relief and insurance spending: $17.40 - 0.70 hours
  • Administration of justice: $15.40 - 0.62 hours
  • Public Schools (K-12): $15.00 - 0.60 hours
  • The Environment: $12.40 - 0.50 hours
  • Agriculture: $9.80 - 0.39 hours
  • General government costs: $6.90 - 0.28 hours
  • International development and humanitarian assistance: $6.30 - 0.25 hours
  • Social services related to education and training: $6.20 - 0.25 hours
  • Space Program: $5.50 - 0.22 hours
  • General science and basic research: $3.40 - 0.14 hours
  • Community and regional development: $3.20 - 0.13 hours
  • Workers training programs: $2.70 - 0.11 hours

  • Totals: $990.20 - 39.61 hours
Perhaps the unlisted $9.80 - .39 hours goes to some slushfund?

If I ignore the Federal progressive tax rates and assume that the $1000/week earner and myself are taxed at the same rate, let's see what happens when I cram the figures above into my previously claimed allocations (5.325 hours each week to fund Federal and State taxes, 2.950 hours each week to fund Medicare and Social Security and 2.254 hours each week to fund personal health, dental and vision insurance).

Coming soon! Until then...

  • The sum of the top three categories are a full 70% more than the sum of all other categories combined
  • More is spent on arresting and detaining criminals than is spent on educating a nation of K-12 graders
  • 4.5 times more money is spent on the government's interest payments than on college contributions (where the majority of students take loans to pay interest back to the government and multi-national financial services firms)
  • More than 5 times the amount of potential preventive and proactive local and community development funding is spent/squandered on disaster relief after the fact

16 April 2007

Leading a Balanced Online Life

As more and more of a person's life leeches into social networking sites, personal blogs, online special interest communities, etc., one is faced with two extremes: too much of an online presence and not enough of an online presence.

Facebook and MySpace Used by Employers, Schools, and Police

"If you're like most college and even high school students, you have posted your profile to Facebook, MySpace, or another social networking site. But did you realize that your profile can easily be accessed by potential employers, schools, law enforcement agencies, and others? As much as that revelation may be a shock for students, it also came as a shock to those who set up the sites because they never intended outsiders to use the information for purposes other than benign social networking."


Web Anonymity Can Sink Your Job Search

"Having a presence on the Web is a critical factor in the job search, especially given the fact that a growing number of recruiters and hiring managers are using search engines when gathering data about potential employees. According to a 2006 survey, 77% of recruiters said they use search engines to check out job candidates. In another survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, 25% of hiring managers said they use Internet search engines to research potential employees, while another 10% said they also use social networking sites to screen candidates. All things being equal, most companies would rather hire a candidate who has demonstrated the ability to participate on the Web. With that in mind, the article provides five tips to develop a more visible presence on the Web."

What to do, what to do?

More cowbell!

15 April 2007

Reading List #4

In commemoration of the recent death of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., I offer the following as the three most influential of his writings, relative to my life. They are:


14 April 2007

The Cost of Commuting

I've been a long-time reader of Mother Jones magazine and have recently taken-in their RSS feed(s). This caught my eye: a sort piece (blog blob?) aimed at outlining the environmental costs of commuting, with numerous references to a New Yorker piece by Nick Paumgarten, as well as the non-fiscal costs associated with commuting long, or in my personal case repulsive, distances. Here are some of the highlights:

"Roughly one out of every six American workers commutes more than forty-five minutes, each way. People travel between counties the way they used to travel between neighborhoods. The number of commuters who travel ninety minutes or more each way—known to the Census Bureau as “extreme commuters”—has reached 3.5 million, almost double the number in 1990. They’re the fastest-growing category, the vanguard in a land of stagnant wages, low interest rates, and ever-radiating sprawl. They’re the talk-radio listeners, billboard glimpsers, gas guzzlers, and swing voters, and they don’t—can’t—watch the evening news. Some take on long commutes by choice, and some out of necessity, although the difference between one and the other can be hard to discern. A commute is a distillation of a life’s main ingredients, a product of fundamental values and choices. And time is the vital currency: how much of it you spend—and how you spend it—reveals a great deal about how much you think it is worth.

. . .

Americans, for all their bellyaching, are not the world’s most afflicted commuters. They average fifty-one minutes a day, to and from work. Pity the Romanians, who average fifty-four. Or the citizens of Bangkok, who average—average!—two hours. A business trip to Bangkok will buck up the glummest Van Wyck Expressway rubbernecker; the traffic there, as in so many automobile-plagued Asian mega-capitals, is apocalyptic. In Japan, land of the bullet train, workers spend almost ninety minutes a day.

. . .

Nationwide, the automobile took over from the train long ago. Nine out of ten people travel to work by car, and, of those, eighty-eight per cent drive alone. The car, and the sprawl that comes with it (each—familiar story—having helped to engender and entrench the other), ushers in another kind of experience. The gray-suited armies of Cheever’s 5:48 have given way to the business-casual soloists, whose loneliness is no longer merely existential. They hardly even have the opportunity to feel estranged at home, their time there is so brief.

. . .

Commuting makes people unhappy, or so many studies have shown. Recently, the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger asked nine hundred working women in Texas to rate their daily activities, according to how much they enjoyed them. Commuting came in last. (Sex came in first.) The source of the unhappiness is not so much the commute itself as what it deprives you of. When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar. In short, you are not spending time with other people. The two hours or more of leisure time granted by the introduction, in the early twentieth century, of the eight-hour workday are now passed in solitude. You have cup holders for company.

. . .

Three years ago, two economists at the University of Zurich, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, released a study called “Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox.” They found that, if your trip is an hour each way, you’d have to make forty per cent more in salary to be as “satisfied” with life as a noncommuter is. (Their data come from Germany, where you’d think speedy Autobahns and punctual trains would bring a little Freude to the proceedings, and their methodology is elaborate and thorough, if impenetrable to the layman, relying on equations like U=α+ßD+ßD²+γX+δw+δw²log y.) The commuting paradox reflects the notion that many people, who are supposedly rational (according to classical economic theory, at least), commute even though it makes them miserable. They are not, in the final accounting, adequately compensated."

The Washington Post has a piece by Eric M. Weiss that addresses the health problems of commuters:

"Besides being a daily grind that takes time away from family, a long commute can be harmful to your health. Researchers have found that hours spent behind the wheel raise blood pressure and cause workers to get sick and stay home more often. Commuters have lower thresholds for frustration at work, suffer more headaches and chest pains, and more often display negative moods at home in the evenings. It's not just the drivers who suffer. Carpool passengers have to deal with what they call 'Mustang neck' or 'Beetle neck' -- the contortions they must make to wedge themselves into the back seats of certain cars.

. . .

As a consequence, more drivers will probably suffer the health effects of a commuter lifestyle, researchers and doctors said. 'You tell someone they need to exercise or go to physical therapy, but how can they? They leave at 5 a.m. and get home at 7 or 8 p.m. at night,' said Robert G. Squillante, an orthopedic surgeon in Fredericksburg who has treated patients for back pain and other commuting-related issues.

He said constant road vibrations and sitting in the same position for a long time is bad for the neck and spine and puts special pressure on the bottom disc in the lower back, the one most likely to deteriorate over the years.

There are other long-term concerns. Raymond W. Novaco, a professor at the University of California at Irvine's Institute of Transportation Studies who has researched commuting for three decades, found a correlation between traffic congestion and negative health effects such as higher blood pressure and stress.

Novaco's research team measures the blood pressure and heart rate of commuters shortly after they arrive at work and again two hours later. Commuters also fill out detailed questionnaires on their home and work lives. 'The longer the commute, the more illness' and more illness-related work absences occur, he said.

. . .

Spending hours sitting in your car can also cause back and other muscle problems and takes time away from more active, healthier pursuits such as walking or going to the gym. The ill effects of commuting are increasingly showing up in local doctors' offices. Squillante, the Fredericksburg orthopedic surgeon, said he has had surgery patients say that the best thing about a back operation was the forced hiatus from their daily commute during recovery."

There is a single take-away from all of this: commuting is both a personal as well as a public health issue. The opportunity costs associated with commuting are often extremely disproportionate. There is a real, measurable drain on those suffering through long commutes. Long commutes break people down.

On a slightly more up-beat note, I read a great piece this past weekend in Wired by Douglas McGray regarding a "pop-up city" initiative in China that looks extremely promising.

12 April 2007

Life Is No Way To Treat An Animal

Kurt Vonnegut died last night. The NYT has an emotionless retrospective. Mother Jones was too lazy to write anything so they linked to the NYT piece. The Nation posted a piece that is appearing in the 23 April 2007 issue. It's almost alarming when you realize how many people wrote or posted pieces in the past with the title, "God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut."

When the tupelo
Goes poop-a-lo
come back to youp-a-lo

--Kilgore Trout's last poem

(blog post title by way of Wikipedia reference for the epitaph on Kilgore Trout's tombstone)

10 April 2007

Where Does Your Paycheck Go?

I was recently reviewing my benefit information at work and adding a new family member, etc. when it occurred to me that I could spend a few minutes computing how my income is allocated each week.

Disturbing. Based on a 40 hour US work week I've determined the following:
Pre-tax Allocations
  • Voluntary retirement contributions: 6.000 hours
  • Federal and State income tax: 5.325 hours
  • No local taxes so I'll lump Medicare and Social Security together: 2.950 hours
  • Health, dental and vision insurance contributions: 2.254 hours
Pre-tax total: 16.53 hours

OK, that leaves me with 23.47 hours of pay to fund the other necessities. Let's see where that goes:

Post-tax Allocations

  • Mortgage: 7.993 hours
  • Commuting costs: 2.909 hours
  • Property taxes: .892 hours
  • Property and vehicle insurance: .832 hours
  • Student loan repayment: .629 hours
  • Life insurance: .559 hours
  • Utilities: 1.234 hours
Post-tax Total: 15.048 hours

This leaves a remainder of 8.422 hours of pay to cover food, maintenance, savings, vacations, child care, education and discretionary spending.

I am very glad my spouse has income as well or we would be rather strapped otherwise. I'm not sure how so many people make substantially less money yet manage to live in MA. Three days ago, the Boston Globe posted this piece by Robert Kuttner:

"REPRESENTATIVE Barney Frank of Newton , chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was in town this week to hold a hearing on the squeeze on household incomes and housing costs. In city after city, costs of both rentals and owner-occupied homes have been outstripping paychecks.

Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone testified that median housing prices increased by about 50 percent in Greater Boston between 1999 and 2006, while real household incomes were basically flat. In 1998, Bluestone calculated, the median-income family could afford the median-priced home in 148 of 161 Greater Boston communities; by 2006, in just 12 communities.

The cost of rentals has been rising just as fast. All this, of course, represents a real hit to family incomes. If you have to spend half of your income to get a roof over your head, you are that much poorer. If you have to double up to get a decent place to live, that's a decline in your standard of living."

On the same day the Worcester T&G provides details from the Central Mass Housing Alliance's 2006 Out of Reach Report (part 1, part 2, part 3), focusing on the Central MA region.

09 April 2007

Reading List #3

Three books I read late last year came to mind while working on my recent post concerning arbitrage opportunities in Second Life. They are:


Arbitrage Opportunities in Second Life?

Second Life (SL) is gaining momentum in popular awareness as well as gaining mind- and wallet-share of first life emigrees. If you believe all/most/some of the hype, there are riches to be made in SL. Gold in dem th'ar hills, as it were. This begs the question: "Are there any arbitrage opportunities for clever investors as well?"

The Linden dollar (L$) value is indexed for the most part against the US dollar (USD), with some volatility based on supply and demand. Linden Lab has this official blurb regarding currency exchange:

"Several online resources allow residents to convert Linden Dollars into US Dollars and vice-versa. Rates fluctuate based on supply and demand, but over the last few years they have remained fairly stable at approximately 250 Linden Dollars (L$) to the US Dollar."

I was truly hoping to learn the Yahoo! Currency Converter would supply conversions, but alas, my hopes were dashed; SL economic statistics and market statistics for currency trading was the best I could hope for.

L$ exchange rates are determined by an in-life market (LindenX) where residents are able to buy and sell currency. There exist other markets, however, external to LindenX where L$ can be bought and sold against some other "real currency". What is needed then is, at minimum, two distinct markets where a pricing difference between L$ and another currency can be identified and taken advantage of in such a way where L$ are purchased at market price lower in one market than the price they can be sold for in another market.

If the fees could be compensated for and the timing issues resolved, at first consideration I would think this could be accomplished via numerous eBay auctions of L$, where each unique eBay auction is itself a distinct market. In fact, if creative individual figures out how to short sell L$ in one market while buying long in another, they will have just hedged L$ currency trades!

06 April 2007

Reading List #2

I certainly didn't read the next three recommendations since the last Reading List post...I'm tidying-up a bit and happened to find three I read last summer that fit the bill:


04 April 2007

Evolution? Phooey!

By way of /., a Newsweek Poll summarized on MSNBC states 48% of Americans believe "God created humans pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so" while an additional 13% believe that "humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process."

That's 48% of the survey respondents being firmly against evolution and up to an additional 13% falling in-step behind.

I hardly know what to say to this. Will science education in the classroom be dead by the time my kids go to school? I need a healthy dose of Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins now.

03 April 2007

It's a Boy!

Eamon Campbell joined us yesterday morning @ 0456 EDT!

8 lbs., 3.5 oz., 19.75" long/tall.

Everyone is healthy and well.

01 April 2007

Reading List #1

In anticipation of Douglas Hofstadter's latest book, I Am a Strange Loop, I decided to re-read his first work, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. That got me thinking that I tend to read in a Wikipedia-like fashion; I take notes of referenced works or concepts explored in the original book and start following them serially, reading whatever falls within my field of interest.

That being said, instead of traditional book reviews (of which there is no short supply), I decided to simply list a few loosely linked or tangentially related books that I have enjoyed with minimal commentary. Here is round 1:


31 March 2007

One Laptop Per Child - revisited

On 28 March 2007, the Financial Times reported that the OLPC project's sole supplier of the XO laptop hardware, Quanta Computer of Taiwan, would be introducing a laptop to developed nations with a $200 price point.

"Quanta Computer, the world’s largest manufacturer of notebook computers, will start making ultra-low-cost computers that could be sold in developed markets for as little as $200 this year or the next, according to its president. The Taiwanese contract manufacturer is already producing a laptop developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers that will be distributed to children in third-world countries – under a non-profit project called One Laptop Per Child – for as little as $150.

But Michael Wang, Quanta’s president, said on Tuesday that the concepts developed through the OLPC project could be applied to create commercially viable machines that are cheaper than anything on the market so far.

'We will definitely at the right time launch a commercialised product similar to the OLPC,' he said in an interview with the Financial Times, adding that several of Quanta’s customers were seeking to launch such a product.

. . .

But Mr Wang said the low-cost machines would not remain limited to developing markets. 'There are a lot of poor people in developed countries, too,' he said.

Quanta has now created a new business unit for 'emerging PCs' with the explicit aim of creating a new market for the low-cost machines.

He said the cheapest models were likely to be sold without hard disks, have small screens and run on open-source software, like the OLPC version."

Earlier in the week, I stated that Charles Kane, the CFO of the One Laptop Per Child project, will be coming to my current place of employment to speak about the OLPC project and the XO laptop device. I had two questions to ask but will now include a third:

  1. Given the recent announcement by Quanta Computer regarding a commercial offering of low-cost laptop computers to developed nations, will the OLTP project continue to utilize their engineering and manufacturing abilities? Was the OLTP project consulted regarding Quanta's intentions? Does this move provide any friction between the OLTP project and Quanta that could put the future of the project at risk?

I hope the questions are addressed if I am unable to attend the session. If so, and I am able to secure permission, I'll post responses here.

30 March 2007

Competition for TED

I just noticed a single page spread in GQ advertising the New Yorker Conference/ 2012: stories from the near future. The site wouldn't render fully in Firefox so I didn't get a chance to explore fully but the print advertisement made it seem very TED-like.

The raw HTML meta content is somewhat interesting:

<meta name="keywords" content="New Yorker, Conde Nast, Conference, David Remnick, Malcolm Gladwell, Microsoft, Discover" />

<meta name="description" content="A rare opportunity to be a part of a brainstorm conceived by the writers and editors of The New Yorker. Join us for presentations, demonstrations, interviews, and discussions with experts across disciplines, both well-known and newly discovered, to explore what will impact our lives within the next five years, from board rooms and trading floors to music studios, design labs, art galleries, technology centers, think tanks and beyond." />
Microsoft is sponsoring the event. Condé Nast/CondéNet is the parent company of GQ and the New Yorker. The web server appears to be running an Akamaized version of IBM's web server over Linux. Wonder how MSFT feels about that?

27 March 2007

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

Charles Kane, the CFO of the One Laptop Per Child project, will be coming to my current place of employment to speak about the OLPC project and the XO laptop device. It seems like a great project and I certainly hope it is wildly successful. With any luck, I'll be able to bring-up the following issues for clarification:

  1. By leaving the distribution of the laptops to the nations that purchase them, it seems that there is a tremendous amount of room for inappropriate behavior or even flagrant misuse on the part of the ordering nation. Aside from the various Memoranda of Understanding being issued, what mechanisms are in-place to encourage positive behaviors and follow-through on whatever agreed upon terms exist between the OLPC project and the host nation? What prevents a nation from accepting the laptops and then distributing them within the government as opposed to the intended children?

  2. It seems that there is potentially an inherent bootstrapping problem: many of the nations purchasing laptops for their children simply do not have the necessary infrastructure in-place to support this program. Areas within the nations often lack completely or at least have inadequate access to electricity, education, health care, etc. I know that the devices can be recharged via a hand crank and that the UI and activities are designed to promote self-learning but doesn't the vision of the program seem a little myopic when one takes into account that there may not be much individual incentive to learn and to use the devices when one does not have access to clean drinking water or a reliable food supply but live under an oppressive government or with constant civil unrest?

Glad I read a bit more before asking about a possible 1-for-2 program with wealthier countries purchasing two XOs while donating one to a more needy country. Color me silly.

As a final note, Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital, founder of the MIT Media Lab and the OLPC project gives a great talk at the always inspiring TED gatherings.