Life is a Mystery

12 June 2009 . Comments Off

Bike maps social

The GroupLens team at the University of Minnesota has a new project, or at least one I just noticed: Cyclopath. This is a map of the Twin Cities with a social ability to mark blocks of the city with regard to their bikeability (potholes, hills, traffic, etc.). You can give it two addresses, describe your preferences (I like bikepaths and bikeroutes, but dislike hills), and it will find a route for you. After trying it out you can grade the route and leave comments for future cyclists. Very cool. If you bike around the Twin Cities you should check it out and get an account. Too bad they don’t let you save or share routes.

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11 June 2009 . Comments Off

Obama in the house

President Obama visited my niece’s high school in Green Bay today, rolled out his health care plan and took questions at a town hall meeting. My sister-in-love Holly was hoping to get in the door, she lives only a few blocks from the school. She asked for ideas of questions to ask in case she was able to attend. This is the question I sent her:

Mr. President, I am so pleased that you have made health care a top priority this year. When I look at the endless bills we get for health care and the fights I have with my insurance company to even get the coverage we paid for, it seems obvious that one of the biggest costs in health care is the cost of maintaining this supposedly “market-based” system. Most of us in the real world don’t really have a choice about insurance, our choices are made by our employers. How does the plan moving forward right now address the huge costs of the redundant billing and decision making infrastructures that our commercial insurance industry represents? And why have single-payer plans, which directly address this shortcoming in our bewildering health care system, been left off the table in your planning?

I don’t know if Holly got in or asked any question, much less mine. But from reports it sounds like someone brought up the issue:

President Barack Obama took questions from audience members after his speech on health care reform at today’s town-hall meeting at Southwest High School.

After a member of the audience asked him if he supported a single-payer health plan, Obama said he does not support what is being called “socialized medicine.”

“The majority of people still get their insurance through their employer, Obama said. “Rather than disrupt things, let them keep the health insurance they’ve got. There still is a role for private insurance.”

For others, however, who can’t get insurance privately should have an option for a public plan.

It is disappointing to hear Obama use codewords like “socialized medicine” to tar single payer. I’m not surprised, single payer was never even part of his campaign platform, but I am sad that he does not leave the door open at least a little bit. Employer-based insurance is part of what is dragging our economy into the mud, but I don’t expect the light to dawn on the mainstream in this regard for at least another two years. It’s failure will be plenty disruptive. I certainly hope that what the president and congress is working on succeeds, but that is not my expectation. I think we’ll be back here before his term is up.

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UPDATE: Holly did not get in after all. But she did see the motorcade! Here is my favorite moment from YouTube

10 June 2009 . Comments Off

Gamma 2.2

Snow Leopard will end an era that few have noticed. Ever since real color was introduced on the Mac the “gamma” of Mac displays has been set to 1.8. You can think of gamma as a kind of brightness, and Microsoft chose a different gamma for PC’s: 2.2. This 2.2 value was more like the NTSC television most of us watched. Apple stuck with the 1.8 value, baked into Quicktime and later Quartz, right on up to today. But I note that the Snow Leopard preview states that from Mac OS X 10.6 on, the default gamma setting for Macs will match that of PC’s: 2.2. Non-color-managed images will seem a bit darker, but then they have always seemed darker to PC users, and there are more of them!

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7 June 2009 . Comments Off

Style and biography

I love this passage from Andrew Sullivan’s column in the Times (UK) this week:

An Indonesian journalist, after asking why the president didn’t make his speech in that vast Muslim south Asian country, followed up with this:

Q: Actually I live only 300 metres from your old house.

President Obama: Is that right?

Q: Yes, Menteng Dalam.

President Obama: Except now it’s all paved.

Q: Yes, it’s all paved.

President Obama: Yes, see, when I was there it was all dirt, so when the rains came it would all be mud. And all the cars would get stuck.

How many previous American presidents addressing the masses in the developing world have been able to say that? The last presidents to break through in this global fashion — Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy — represented American glamour and style and otherness. Barack Obama does, too — but he combines it with a unique developing-world biography.

This is what I dreamed of when campaigning for the man.

Another example from On The Media this week. Ahmad al-Shugairi, “a new breed of preacher” dedicated to Islam, ends his segment like this:

We focus on alcohol and sexual issues. So we see the US are open on these two arenas so we say we are better than them because we don’t have those. However, we forget that these are two out of a hundred. Barack Obama’s presidency is a great implementation of a human virtue that prophet Mohammed and Jesus before him promoted, which is that all humans are created equal. When you see an African American leading the most powerful country in the world, out of election not out of force, and it cannot be implemented anywhere else in the world, anywhere else, this needs to be acknowledged.

What an opportunity we now have. I hope we seize it!

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4 June 2009 . Comments Off

In awe: substance

Somewhere in 2007, when I was not yet blogging again, I began to articulate my hopes for an Obama presidency. One foundation on which my hope for change rested was the simple symbolism of his name and skin color. I wanted to be able to hold his image before the world as a concrete demonstration that the US was changing course. He hardly had to do more than exist, I imagined, to make the world a better place.

Today that vision became real, and so much more. Barack Obama not only exists, he invites, engages, and challenges the world. He calls us all to be better than we have been. His speech in Cairo makes me feel like we are not in Kansas anymore (so to speak). We have entered a new era.

Without leadership painting a vision of the world we want it is very hard to act together toward a constructive end. Obama is laying that vision out, and the world he envisions is a world I want to live in. It is a world I want to work to create. I doubt I am alone. I think we are in the presence of true leadership.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

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4 June 2009 . Comments Off

In awe: form

The White House of Barack Obama is demonstrating its clear grasp of the twenty-first century. They understand the communication modes available to them in a way that our government has never understood to date. And they are skilled in pulling out all the stops to support their agenda.

Today at 5am (our time) Obama gave a speech in Cairo. The White House webcast the speech live for anyone who wanted to wake up and watch it. Then promptly posted it on YouTube. They also used SMS to text the speech to folks who signed up to get it via cellphone. They posted the transcript.

And it didn’t stop with the speech. Here is a complementary video that was posted on YouTube today, a video profiling some muslims working in the federal government, painting a picture of the diversity of our nation. To see this kind of quality coordinated with this sort of event is stunning.

And, may I say, a bit scary? These folks are so good at what they do, what happens when what they do no longer serves the nation’s interest? We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there. For now I am simply in awe.

3 June 2009 . Comments Off

Square it

This has been a busy time for search on the web. First up was Wolfram Alpha, less search, more analysis. Then Bing, the rebirth of Microsoft search with a very Google feel. And now Google has opened up its new “labs” project: Google Squared. Google Squared tries to build lists from concepts you enter; enter “religions” and you get an organized list of religions. Lots to explore, and a lot of ways to do it.

1 June 2009 . Comments Off

Photographic record protection

We have sunk to a new cowardly low. First we torture and rape prisoners in our care (thank you George Bush), then we refuse to let anyone see evidence of our depravity (thank you Barack Obama), and now we are making it illegal for such pictures to be shared (thank you US Senate). No freedom of information act or leak will give you the right to share these photographs. And the Senate passes this as an amendment, buried deep, unaccountable. We deserve to be afraid.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org