January 11, 2011

RIP, David Noble [10:11 am]

A 1979/80 TPP Proseminar picture; Dave Noble is far left

I learned today that Dave Noble (far left in the image above), a real intellectual light of my graduate school experience at MIT’s Technology and Policy Program, died December 27, 2010.

NOBLE, David Franklin - Passed away suddenly in Toronto on December 27, 2010, David F. Noble was an internationally acclaimed scholar and courageous activist, most recently on the faculty of York University. Born in New York City, he had held positions at MIT, the Smithsonian Institution and Drexel University, as well as many visiting professorships. Dave prized truth, justice and integrity and he often found himself in conflict with powers-that-be. His numerous books challenged core ideas and major institutions of technology, science, corporate capitalism and higher education. As a relentless activist against injustice, he took the risks that no one else would take. Despite his public persona, Dave was an intensely sweet, loving and compassionate person, a proud father of three talented daughters, and a passionately loving husband who celebrated life. He treasured his summers in the Vermont woods with his family, his many devoted friends, colleagues and allies, and the transcendent pleasure of music and nature. Dave is survived by his wife Sarah Dopp of Toronto; daughters Clare O’Connor of Toronto, Helen O’Connor of Toulon, France and Alice O’Connor of Vancouver, BC; sister Jane Pafford of Arcadia, Florida; brothers Doug Noble of Rochester, New York and Henry Noble of Seattle, Washington. A public memorial service will be announced in the coming weeks.

Published in the Toronto Star on December 30, 2010

Some of my TPP students have heard me speak of what an outstanding experience it was to take classes from David. The obituary gets it exactly right — David was at least as much an activist as a scholar, and it was a privilege to learn from him.

[As an aside, I am intrigued by (a) the fact that the Toronto Star's obituary archive is handled by Legacy.com; (b) the fact that Legacy.com runs a virtual "condolence book" as a business proposition (you get to pay to keep it live); and (c) the fact that, as soon as I posted a note, I was invited to add a link to my Facebook wall.

The world continues to evolve and change at a ridiculous rate, mediated by technology in ways that David was particularly interested in exploring and interpreting in his unique fashion.]

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August 25, 2009

Missing the Point [8:14 am]

No, the issue is not whether “the risks justified the results;” the issue is what sort of a people are we prepared to be? If honoring human dignity is not a universal principle of governance, does that mean that, as a matter of course, we will embrace expediency instead? And, what does it mean for our current leadership that it has had to be forced by an NGO to take even this little action to begin to address the cancerous legacy of this ugly construction of governance that the preceding Administration (or Administrations) have elected to pursue: C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed in Report on Detainees (pdf)

The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.

But the inspector general’s review raised broad questions about the legality, political acceptability and effectiveness of the harshest of the C.I.A.’s methods, including some not authorized by the Justice Department and others that were approved, like the near-drowning technique of waterboarding.

“This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report said, and whether the frequency and volume of water poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization.

The ACLU’s announcement, with links to all documents so far obtained: ACLU Obtains Detailed Official Record Of CIA Torture Program

Related (unfortunately): U.S. Says Rendition to Continue, but With More Oversight (pdf)

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May 4, 2009

The Boston Globe’s Death Spiral [7:01 am]

You know, I wanted to read this article the way I usually do — reading a copy of the paper over an iced tea and a toasted bagel at my local Au Bon Pain. I’ve even made the concession to buying the paper each day from one of the newspaper vending machines that pepper my neighborhood because the delivery company for the Globe subscription service can’t seem to get it to my home before I leave for work (and routinely delivered it regardless of any request I made for vacation stoppages — even delivering it a full six months after the Globe had cancelled my subscription for non-payment because they changed the look of their bills and I kept throwing them out with the junk mail).

I even have made the effort to find the vending boxes that are filled early, because the one that is near the Au Bon Pain where I like to eat doesn’t get filled until after 8:00 AM, when I have been in my office working for over an hour.

But, this morning, I ended up having to read this article online because the vending machine wouldn’t take my $0.75 — probably because it was not reset from the Sunday price of $2.50.

Or maybe the machine was just broken — like the entire Boston Globe distribution model. *sigh*

Globe negotiations continue (pdf)

Boston Globe management was continuing to negotiate concessions with its major unions well past a midnight deadline, but said it was prepared to file a plant closing notice with the state today if they failed to reach agreement. That would allow the paper’s owner, the New York Times Co., to follow through on its threat to shutter the 137-year-old newspaper.

You know, when I changed my (fully paid up) subscription from daily to Sunday only, I wasn’t even asked “why?” — the person on the other end just took the necessary information and then let me go.

When you can’t even deliver the physical object in a timely fashion, what makes you think you can call it “news” anymore?

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September 11, 2008

OT: We’re Done [7:09 am]

That’s it. The campaign is over. We’re just waiting to get the vote count now.

No more discussion of issues. No more consideration of what America can and should be.

Nope. It’s all personalities now. Slurs. Slams. Making mountains out of molehills.

It *is* like an election for class president in the 5th grade. The teachers kept telling us “You should vote on the basis of the candidates’ issues and proposals,” but everyone knew that the whole thing was a popularity contest.

Of course, in the 5th grade, the teachers were there to ensure that the discussion *was* about the issues. Any effort to make the election about personalities was squashed.

Of course, that didn’t matter in the end. It was still a personality contest. But we at least got a lesson about what adults did when they held their elections, for positions that really mattered.

Real responsibilities: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Like that. Important work, for serious people.

How naive.

I miss the 5th grade.

Links to pdfs: Campaign shocks! The Outrage Machine is on a roll; McCain Camp Hits Obama On More Than One Front; Civility is casualty as campaigns spar; Anti-Obama ‘The One’ ad goes funny, not negative, McCain says


Roger Cohen is even more heartick about this than I. His op-ed today (to which I linked above) is a stunner: In The Seventh Year:

And, lo, a strange thing did come to pass. For as surely as the seasons do alternate, so the ruler and party that have brought woe to a nation must give way to others who can lead their people to plenty. How can the weary, flogged ass bear honey and balm and almonds and myrrh?

Yet many Americans believed the exhausted beast could still provide bounty. They did hold that a people called the French was to blame. They did accuse a creation called the United Nations. They did curse the ungodly sophisticates of Gotham and Hollywood and sinful Chicago; and, lo, they proclaimed God was on their side, and carried a gun, and Darwin was bunk, and truth resided in Alaska.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did foster division until it raged like a plague. Each tribe sent pestilence on the other.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought — but not how the damage would be undone.

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May 1, 2007

Fixed? [6:04 am]

Crossing my fingers….

Spending time last night tracking processes and queries in the OS and MySQL led me to an amazing discovery — Adobe Acrobat spawns its *own* MySQL process (using its own version of mysqld and mysqladmin) to handle something called “Organizer.” I think the problem has been the fact that there were too many MySQL servers out there listening, and any sort of serial process was getting interrupted because I’m just betting that the Adobe process was not configured to be responsive to any number of things (a port conflict, perhaps?).

After hiding the executables from Adobe, the system seems more responsive. Today will be the test of the fix. If it works out, then I can start looking into figuring out what I would have to do to make the two happily co-exist.

Thanks to those who offered suggestions and advice!

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April 30, 2007

Still Struggling… [6:34 pm]

Well, tried a suggestion I got to take care of the sluggishness (create a “clean” WordPress installation and move all the data into the new databases). Sadly, that has merely demonstrated that the problem I’m dealing with is not with the specific databases that WordPress uses. However, a “pure” HTML page loads blindingly fast, so the problem is still with the database infrastructure — I just need to dig deeper. Unfortunately, the slow performance that you see is even worse when using the web browser to post content, making it really hard for me to stay on top of things. *Sigh* Digging through my.cnf and php.ini - what fun.

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December 21, 2006

OT: Under the Weather [10:34 am]

H, everyone.

Sorry about the slow posting rate. A mishap has left me with a broken ankle and downtime to put myself back together. While, under some circumstances, that might mean *more* posting, this one is having an opposite effect. I expect that will change soon, but not immediately.

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November 9, 2006

Sorry! [8:39 am]

I know that there has been a real paucity of postings lately. It’s been kind of busy here, and I don’t expect that to change much before the end of the week. I have a few tasks, including getting ready for a Visiting Committee meeting next week as well as a couple of papers, so my apologies. I will be back, though!

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November 2, 2006

OT: Less Than A Week To Election Day [8:56 am]

A few thoughts:

  • The Great Divider

    But when candidates for lower office make their opponents out to be friends of Osama bin Laden, or try to turn a minor gaffe into a near felony, that’s just depressing. When the president of the United States gleefully bathes in the muck to divide Americans into those who love their country and those who don’t, it is destructive to the fabric of the nation he is supposed to be leading.

    This is hardly the first time that Mr. Bush has played the politics of fear, anger and division; if he’s ever missed a chance to wave the bloody flag of 9/11, we can’t think of when. But Mr. Bush’s latest outbursts go way beyond that. They leave us wondering whether this president will ever be willing or able to make room for bipartisanship, compromise and statesmanship in the two years he has left in office.

  • Olbermann’s Special Comment : There is no line this President has not crossed — nor will not cross — to keep one political party, in power; wherein McCain is also taken to task over the ruling Party’s latest grasp at straws

    This, is our beloved country now, as you have re-defined it, Mr. Bush.

    Get a tortured Vietnam veteran to attack a decorated Vietnam veteran, in defense of military personnel, whom that decorated veteran did not insult.

    Or, get your henchmen to take advantage of the evil lingering dregs of the fear of miscegenation in Tennessee, in your party’s advertisements against Harold Ford.

    Or, get the satellites who orbit around you, like Rush Limbaugh, to exploit the illness — and the bi-partisanship — of Michael J. Fox — yes, get someone to make fun of the cripple.

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September 8, 2006

OT: The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be [7:43 am]

Talk about unrealistic expectations. Since when did individual happiness depend upon technological advance? This consumerist look at science and its products is way off the mark, but shows just how badly technological progress is understood. Whither Tomorrowland? - pdf

The future has arrived and, incredibly, we have prototype robots and space vacations, but something very important has been left in the past: a dream of happiness. I’m talking about the undiluted joy of bounding hand in hand across the moon’s surface with a picnic lunch, or having a deep philosophical conversation with a dolphin — real honest-to-God, life-in-the-future, faster-than-light happiness.

We’ve got the gadgets but not the utopia. Maybe utter happiness is just too much to ask of technology, or maybe techno-bliss is just over the horizon. Either way, it seems we have lost that overwhelming, calming and possibly fatally optimistic belief that scientists will one day invent the technology to make us all healthy, problem free and, most of all, really, really happy.

They will, of course. Someday.

[...] The time has come to hold the golden age of science fiction accountable for its fantastic promises. So grab your favorite scientist by the lapels and shake hard. Demand a personal jetpack, a servant robot, an automatic cow-milker or whatever dream of the future makes you happy. The magnificent destiny of humankind depends on it.

And don’t get me started on where I think American optimism went. My fingers would find plenty of targets to point at before I get to any technologies….

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September 4, 2006

OT: Why I’m In The Office Today [8:20 am]

A look at the academic life: The Summer Next Time

On paper, the academic life looks great. As many as 15 weeks off in the summer, four in the winter, one in the spring, and then, usually, only three days a week on campus the rest of the time. Anybody who tells you this wasn’t part of the lure of a job in higher education is lying. But one finds out right away in graduate school that in fact the typical professor logs an average of 60 hours a week, and the more successful professors work even more — including not just 14-hour days during the school year, but 10-hour days in the summer as well.

Why, then, does there continue to be a glut of fresh Ph.D.’s? It isn’t the pay scale, which, with a few lucky exceptions, offers the lowest years-of-education-to-income ratio possible. It isn’t really the work itself, either. Yes, teaching and research are rewarding, but we face as much drudgery as in any professional job. Once you’ve read 10,000 freshman essays, you’ve read them all.

But we academics do have something few others possess in this postindustrial world: control over our own time. All the surveys point to this as the most common factor in job satisfaction. The jobs in which decisions are made and the pace set by machines provide the least satisfaction, while those, like mine, that foster at least the illusion of control provide the most.

[...] I was recently offered a non-teaching job that would have almost doubled my salary, but which would have required me to report to an office in standard 8-to-5 fashion. I turned it down, and for a moment I felt like the circus worker in the joke: he follows the elephant with a shovel, and when offered another job responds, “What, and give up show business?”

Really, though, I’m more like Jacob Ventling and Edward Rutter. I don’t go out 10 times a day for a dram of rum, but I could. And in fact, maybe I will. Next summer.

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August 30, 2006

Why We Fight [7:22 am]

Free speech is a precious and necessary thing. Consider this terrible story of Japanese terrorism, and be thankful — and watchful: Threat Is Seen to Free Speech in Japan - pdf

An outspoken politician whose mother’s house was burned to the ground after he criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to a controversial war shrine warned Tuesday that increasing intimidation by right-wing extremists was casting a chill over free speech in Japan.

“There is less freedom than before to express one’s feelings,” said Koichi Kato, a onetime senior member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP. Kato has become a target of hard-line nationalists for his criticism of Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the souls of 2.5 million of the country’s war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals from Japan’s imperial era.

Many politicians, academics and journalists have been cowed into silence by the threat of nationalist violence, suffocating a crucial debate on Japan’s relations with China, Kato said.

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July 21, 2006

OT: Not Getting A Lot Of Work Done This Week [8:47 am]

Because we have a ring side seat for viewing the demolition of the old garage next door to our building.

Still no idea what MIT has in mind for the space, but it’s been the distraction that a bunch of engineering faculty and students can’t resist — watching the use of big machines to execute on the interesting engineering task of destroying a building without harming the surrounding ones. Each machine has a name, as do the operators. (Surprisingly, despite the number of Futurama fans here, the “Crushinator” name has gone unused) Sadly, the hose guys demonstrate that we’re MITers — they’re merely Hose Guy #1 and Hose Guy #2.

They broke one of the crushing claws the second day (they really do look like lobster crusher claws), and today there’s a “veterinarian” out there fixing it.

And to see what machines like these can do to reinforced concrete and brick walls can change your world view forever!

The graphic will take you to an animated GIF — a demonstration of what having a digital camera can do to you once you realize you’re not constrained by film costs.

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July 19, 2006

OT: Requiem For An Elm [9:29 pm]

When Karen and I moved into our current home a few years ago, we were surprised to learn that the stupendous tree that essentially owns the backyard of our row house is an elm tree. It is estimated that it was probably planted when the house was built in 1861.

Given the prevalence of Dutch elm disease in the Northeast, I really would not have expected that there were any elms of this size in the city and we looked upon the care of this tree as an important responsibility. The tree surgeon who came to take care of the tree this fall indicated that there are probably about 60 trees still in Cambridge (mostly at Harvard), and that this one is probably among the oldest.

Well, I learned today that our tree is now infected — “flagging” is the term used in the links above to describe the state of the tree, indicating that the tree canopy is infected and dying. And the tree surgeon says that, given the heat and the wetness of this summer in New England, we can probably expect that the tree will be dead within 4 months.

Even though the surgeon waited until November to treat the tree last year, I can’t help wondering if we wouldn’t have been better off leaving the tree alone. Care of a tree like this can only take place when it’s dormant; otherwise, the sap of the cut tree attracts the beetles that are the primary vector for the disease. Even though this fall was colder than normal, the winter overall was noticeably warmer than other years, with a really stunning warm spell in January that led to some trees budding really early.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, it’s only a tree, I know. But it’s still something awful to be so helpless in the face of what the experts seem to feel is an inevitable outcome. While it’s always possible that the tree might weather this infection, the fact that my untrained eye got me worried enough to bring in an expert suggests that it’s not doing very well.

Intimations of our mortality, despite what Ray Kurzweil expects….

(MIT’s Tech Talk on this year’s loss of an old elm at on Killian Court)

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October 6, 2005

Saw Dead Can Dance Last Night [8:29 am]

Man, Ticketmaster has some weird seat allocation algorithm for the Orpheum, but I think I’d sit on the floor to get a chance to hear Lisa Gerrard sing. And the DCD sound is just amazing live.

The only real disappointment was that, sitting the balcony with all the middle-aged folks, I didn’t get the full opportunity to see the full spectrum of the full Goth look of the fans who really dress-up for the concert.

Also decided to try the “buy the concert CD” option. Should be interesting to see just how well that turns out.

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