Category Archives: Community technology

Grinnell Reunion 2012 — a life of happy accidents

I gave a talk at my Grinnell College reunion last weekend and decided to build this post to share a bunch of links to things that I talked about.  This ain’t a’gonna make any sense to the rest of you.  But the stuff is interesting.  🙂

This is a story of rivers of geeks.  I described the rivers that I swam in during my career, but these are by no means all of the species of geeks that ultimately built the Internet.  I was lucky to be a part of a gang of 10’s maybe 100’s of thousands of geeks that came together in the giant happy accident that resulted in this cool thing that we all use today.  But don’t be confused — it was a complete accident, at least for me and probably for all of us.  Here’s a diagram…

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Whit Diffie is the new VP of info-security and cryptography at ICANN! Kewl!

Very neat news today out of ICANN.  Whit Diffie is this monster figure in the crypto world — he’s one of the founding folks in that circle.  He worked at Sun for ages and now he’s joining ICANN.

Click HERE for the ICANN press-release.

Click HERE for a starter-page at Wikipedia.

Click HERE to watch him on an episode of Cranky Geeks (with John Dvorak) to get a feel for what’s he’s like in person.

I’m really glad to hear that he’s joining the ICANN gang.  It’ll give us some depth that we badly need in this area.

Consensus decision making — WORT-FM, 1975

This is a piece by Jeff Lange in Volume One, Number Three of “Spread the WORT” — the newsletter of WORT-FM (Madison, WI) just as it was going on the air in 1975.  I’ve always loved this description of the consensus decision-making process we used to run the station.  All due apologies to Pogo…

The big deal?  The sentence that really catches it for me is “we ad WORT don wanna tred up on the wee miroridy vuponts, so we jus wade undill eberyone am finely agreed.”  Still works for me today, some 35 years later.  Thanks Jeff!

Here’s my translation, since many of you aren’t native-English speakers and might find this pretty tough to read in Jeff’s native Pogo-style language.  Apologies to Jeff for any mistranslations.

Yes, it’s a curious fact, that nobody is ever able to quite explain, how decisions get made at this particular radio station.  But they do.  This is a grievous hard and ticklesum thing for newcomers to digest.  Take, for example, the familiar caller who, in a fever pitch of excitement, has phoned up the station with his or her (or “it’s” for that matter) idea for a program.   Rnnng.  He (let’s just say it’s a “he”) says “My dog can bark heavy metal rock n’roll — can he have 5 hours on Tuesday nights?”   Well, the person at the station (say it is a person) says “Isn’t that the same thing as what’s on WBRK every night?”  The caller replies “Yes, but my dog barks badder!”  Then that, says the person, is a question for the Program Committee.

The best thing then is if the caller hangs up, thinking all is well for the Program Committee will do its duty.  But if the caller says “Oh, what’s the Program Committee?” then the person has to explain: The Program Committee are all the people that come to the Program Committee Meeting.  You can come.  So can your mother.  It’s Friday at 8pm.  No, they never vote on anything.  Voting is against the rules.  So is parliamentary procedure. They just talk about things until everyone is agreed, and that is consensus — the highest form of unanimity.

Then the caller says “oh.”

Then the person at the radio station should continue: “Yes, it’s a curious fact, but it seems to work.  So far, at least.  We at WORT don’t want to tread on the wee minority viewpoints, so we just wait until everyone is finally agreed.  Nope, it’s never failed yet…  which just goes to prove: you can make some of the decisions all of the time, and all of the decisions some of the time…”

Then the caller says, “can you put me through to the general manager?”

“No, there isn’t a general manager.  Would you like to talk to Sarah-Gene?”

“She the owner?”

“Nope.  She’s just another volunteer.”

Infrastructure security – some useful ideas

I was on a panel talking to a bunch of infrastructure-security type people yesterday and came away feeling like we didn’t deliver on our promise to provide practical hands-on stuff.  So I’m tossing a couple Powerpoint slide decks up in this post by way of making amends.

This first one is the deck we used in Saint Paul to rally people around the “get ready for Y2k” initiative.  It’s an example of how to do non-scary, what’s-in-it-for-me? conversation around a pretty tough topic.  Maybe some of this kind of thinking can help the security folks when they’re pitching to their customers.  Click HERE for the file (no warrantees — scan it before you open it).

This next file is a huge deck I put together when I was first briefing the Big Kids at MnSCU about their enterprise security initiative.  This was the basis of selling senior management that this was a Good Thing and showed them how security could make them more money, make them more nimble, improve quality and oh by the way reduce costs.  This is an “everything including the kitchen sink” deck that might have a few ideas for people to steal.  Click HERE for the file (same warrantee as above).

There.  I feel like I’ve lived up to my advance-billing now.  Hopefully some security mavens will find some useful stuff in these.

Muni WiFi — let’s build a model

I just posted a story over at the St Paul Broadband Committee site about my belief that a lot of the municipal WiFi networks don’t seem to be grounded in financial reality.

Here’s a link to the article and here’s a link to the muni-WiFi financial model I built to go with it.

Here’s the deal — let’s get these models out of the hands of the VooDoo consulting expert type people and into the hands of the people. “Open source financial modeling” if you will. Let’s beat on this model — or write a new one if this one is hopeless — and get to the point where we ALL understand the economics that underpin these projects.

That way, we can either rejoice in bridging the digital divide, solving the problems of the world and putting a chicken in every pot (as advocates claim) or we can avoid the mess that comes with yet another technology project that over-promises and under-delivers.

What say you? Let’s have at it.

Get a customer service human being –

Sure, they’ve been around forever. Sure, most of you probably already know about this site. But just in case you don’t, here’s a pointer to — a great site if you’re trying to get to a human-being customer-service type person.

Marcie was trying to find the path through Northwest Airline’s patented “Voice Prompts From Hell” system to book a seat for me on an existing reservation. She finally gave up. I remembered reading about GetHuman somewhere, Googled it, looked up NWA and tried it out. Tarnation! Worked perfectly.

I’m sold. It’s even got the incredibly-secret path to Amazon customer-service reps!

BlogTorrant – making BitTorrants easier for your blog

I've been puzzling about the problem that BlogTorrant solves for quite a while.

Namely — how can I make it easy to put BitTorrant versions of big files (like my Sex and Podcasting podcasts) up on my sites.

These sites of mine are built on Xoops, a very nifty, very flexible open-source content management system that can do all kinda cool stuff. But blogging isn't it's strong suit — not terrible, but it's a little clunky at things like track-backs, RSS, etc.

I solved the “how do I do enclosures?” problem by using FeedBurner to generate the RSS feeds that you're seeing — one of the nice things about that system is way it auto-magically does all the enclosure stuff for podcasting.

This BlogTorrant gizmo looks like it might be the add-on that will make it easy to do BitTorrants in the Xoops environment — I will do some tinkering and update this post with a cookbook if things work out.

Recording Skype calls (for podcasting, but also interviews for work)

Ah. A completely satisfactory geek experience. Now that I've rassled most of the basic podcasting stuff into shape, I wanted to move on to doing interviews and conference calls and recording them — Ralph pointed out that Skype was the way to go.

Doug Kaye (the maestro of IT Conversations) put together this definitive post on how to record Skype calls. There are other ways, but this is definitely the industrial-strength approach.

I'm going to start doing “conversation” podcasts, but before that I'm going to use this to record an interview for a consulting project I'm working on — tomorrow. I have a little rant n'record that's going up on Sex and Podcasting about how you could use podcasting as an organizing tool for work (the show will go up in a day or two).

RSS as a replacement for databases

Safe Haven's not getting much attention these days because I'm still getting my sea legs with the podcasting stuff. Sex and Podcasting is gonna be getting a new post a day, at least for the next week.

But I ran into a cool thought while listening to The Gilmore Gang yesterday (what happened to them by the way — a great series of podcasts that seem to have trickled off to nothing back in February).

Here's the idea — why not use RSS on a manufacturing shop floor to let machines and work-centers tell each other (and us) what they're up to. Machines could “subscribe” to upstream machines, and “publish” for downstream machines and let each other know what's going on — feeds could talk about what came into (and left) the machine/work-center.

I spoze this could be expanded to anything that has stuff moving through stages — paperwork processes, hospitals, etc. All kinds of real-time applications come to mind.

One thing that would be neat is that we'd get away from the huge central database notion and so adding a workcenter, or rearranging them, would be easy. Simply a matter of changing who subscribed to what. Sortof an object-oriented model that us regular people could understand…

It could be really visual too — lots of cool UI possibilities there. Not to mention fitting in better with the notion of lean manufacturing, and visual management.

Now, back to podcasting.

Sex and Podcasting — my new podcasting gizmo

I’m late into the game — podcasting’s 5 months old, but I’m there now.

This blog has been neglected for the last couple weeks while I’ve been getting things pulled together, but I’m there now and this is an entry to record what I’ve learned. It’s going to be another really long one, so I’ll put topic headers and keywords (for Google) “above the fold” and leave the gory details for the “read more” section…

Sex and Podcasting — what it’s about, why I’m doing it, why I transmogrified Lorenzo’s “Sex and Broadcasting” book title into my site’s name, plus some of the interesting current developments in the podcast world like Adam Curry’s

Licensing — I’m going to play RIAA licensed music. At least I think so… This section is where I’ll explore the differences between ASCAP/BMI performance rights licenses, Harry Fox Agency mechanical rights licenses and SoundExchange federal copyright licenses and how I’ve decided to proceed — the short version is; I’ve got a BMI license for the performance rights, and will work with Harry Fox on mechanical rights when they decide what to do.

Equipment — hardware/software plus construction. I got a couple cool new toys — some nice mics plus a really neat Marantz PMD660 digital recorder (which i wound up getting in preference to the Edirol R1).

To learn more… Continue reading

Question for y'all — should I add conferencing to the site?

Steve and Ralph and I had a little chat in the “comments” section of the video-conferencing post that went up a few weeks back, which got me thinking this morning…

Since I imagine most of the folks who are reading this blog are Beer Gang members-in-good-standing, I was wondering if you'd be interested in having a conferencing area on the site so you could talk to each other directly. It's easy (a couple mouse-clicks) to put up, if you think it's a good idea.