Mennonites, those Goth kids, and al Qaeda

Two good ones from Bruce Schneier’s blog:

Mennonites moving to avoid photo ID requirements.

Mennonites are considering moving to a different state because they don’t want their photo taken for their drivers licenses. Many (all?) states had religious exemptions to the photo requirement, but now fewer are. *

Another issue touched on in the NY Times article is the inability of Mennonites to leave the country to visit relatives in Canada or Mexico. No passports = no border crossings.

Also via Schneier on Security a great Onion link.

“We believe the yield signs were removed in order to disrupt traffic patterns, most likely to cause an accident,” Steinhorst said. “The party responsible for the crime could be anyone from suspected terrorist Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, who is on the FBI’s most-wanted list, to that Fairman kid and his buddies. It could be the work of one or the other. Possibly both, though I have to say I doubt that.”

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Dendrobates captivus

The frog folk who visit the site know this already, but for people whose tastes may not run so much in the direction of anuran minutia – a dendrobatid that hasn’t been seen in 77 years has been rediscovered. With all the news about chytrid decimating tropical amphibians, this is the best thing I’ve heard in a while. Story and pictures here (there’s also an article in the April National Geographic, I’m told). The effort is already underway to protect and conserve these little gems. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.

Four quick links:

  • Private police forces – mall cops with guns and real enforcement responsibilities? Bad idea on so many levels it’s not funny.
  • National Security Letters – abused by the FBI – abuse that was facilitated by the gag order that comes with the letters.
  • DMCA – threat or menace? “Our attempts at copyright control have not been successful” – duh.
  • Folk devils and identity theft. If you don’t correctly identify the cause, good solutions are unlikely.

Systems thinking

In my post on internet radio I mentioned the adaptation vs. control choice that the media industry is facing. I’m going to eventually post Kauffman’s rules of systems thinking, but since there are 28 of them, I thought I’d soften everyone up with 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline (from Peter Senge’s book):

  1. today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions”
  2. the harder you push, the harder the system pushes back
  3. behavior grows better before it grows worse
  4. the easy way out usually leads back in
  5. the cure can be worse than the disease
  6. faster is slower
  7. cause and effect are not closely related in time and space
  8. small changes can produce big results –but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious
  9. you can have your cake and eat it too –but not at once
  10. dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants
  11. there is no blame

I remain suspicious of folks that lay out characteristics of effective organizations – the descriptive often segues into the prescriptive and as far as ‘just do these things and your organization will flourish’ – if it was that easy I’d think we’d see a lot fewer Dilbert meets Kafka workplaces. I spent many years working for a very large corporation; we had a CEO who was regularly fêted as a managerial genius. Down in the trenches one of my favorite inside jokes was filling in the blanks on a couple bits of management speak: the inside-out view (how do we see ourselves) and the outside-in view (how do our customers and suppliers see us).

  • inside-out = “I wish I worked for the company he’s talking about”
  • outside-in = “I wish I did business with that company”

In fairness to Jack, I think he realized that the company he liked to describe was some kind of idealized construct – that didn’t make the cube farms any more hospitable though… Whining aside, thinking about systems rather than a naive linear cause and effect is a habit all of us need to cultivate (IMHO).

Rule 10 makes me think of another rule from one of the best project management books out there – The Mythical Man Month. To paraphrase a point from Brook’s book in call and response form:

Q: How do you make a late project later?

A: Add more people!

Greenery

As promised – some pictures of the plants. I recently purchased a new digital camera – having a cell phone that took better pix than my ‘real’ camera wasn’t cutting it… Clicking on a picture will take you to a larger image.

Paphiopedilum bloom (I forget the variety – I got it at the bargain table at the local greenhouse):

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Pitcher of Nepenthes truncata ‘Paisan Highlands’:

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Two Heliamphoras (pulchella and minor ‘Chiamanta’), two pots of Utricularia nelumbifolia, a bromeliad that has a utric plantlet in it, and a sundew:

Internet Radio

It might be the bank teller who won’t cash your check for ten,
the draft board official who wants his job back again,
the rookie cop who will always be a novice,
those little punks down at the Food Stamp office…

Stupid people in positions of power,
stupid people in positions of power,

stupid people in positions of power,
wicked stupid now!

- Bill Morrissey *

A few weeks ago I wrote about Pandora – a webcaster who will take a seed song or artist and play other tunes like it. It’s a good way to discover new stuff and in a rational world, I’d think that the music business would welcome the exposure. Hah! No such luck – seems like everything the mafRIAA touches turns brown and smelly. A friend emailed me to let me know about the internet radio death watch – seems that fees for webcasters are being reset at a level that will put the small to medium sized folks out of business:

Bill Goldsmith of Radio Paradise told Kurt Hanson, “This royalty structure would wipe out an entire class of business: Small independent webcasters such as myself & my wife, who operate Radio Paradise. Our obligation under this rate structure would be equal to over 125% of our total income. There is no practical way for us to increase our income so dramatically as to render that affordable.” Kurt adds, “And Radio Paradise is perhaps the most-successful webcaster in its class! For most operators, this rate looks as if it would be >150-200% of total revenues.” *

Aside – Radio Paradise is successful for good reason. The friend who told me about the death watch also pointed me at Radio Paradise; it’s fantastic.

The market has changed. The record industry seems to think they can legislate the jinni back into the bottle, rather than adapting to new realities. The opportunities are there – provide extremely high bit-rate files for audiophiles, let me buy (non-DRMed) songs with a one-stop click at sites like Pandora and Radio Paradise, open up the long tail (I’d love to get my hands on the two Bottle Hill albums again), etc. Instead of adapting and providing additional value though, it seems like the business plan centers on business as usual via legal control and intimidation (I’ll have more to say about this in another post soon).

This decision has much to offend both free-speech-loving Democrats and free-market-loving Republicans. Especially the latter. You’re not going to find a better example of government interfering with free markets — or preventing them outright — than with this one.

You also won’t find businesses (or organizations, in the case of public radio stations and other nonprofits) that are doing a better job than Internet radio of help recording artists get paid for their work. For proof, go to Radio Paradise and click on any song on its long playlist. You’ll get album cover art, links to the artist’s website, tour info, and much more, including six different ways to buy the song. Go to Soma-FM, click on any playlist and any artist. You’ll get sent to an Amazon page where you can buy the music. Go to NPR’s Music page, and you’ll find Available for Purchase: Featured Music in prominent display.

This is the marketplace at work, today. It is exactly these kinds of market activities — independent businesses, helping make music consumers into music customers — that the RIAA and SoundExchange are working so hard to prevent, and that Judge Simson dismisses as a “nascent industry” that he’d rather see bulldozed to make room for the few Big Boys who can afford to pay. *

Where will this kind of activity go? Maybe offshore? Where the music industry is far less likely to get a cut? Oh, I know – let’s set up our own version of the Great Firewall to protect an entrenched oligopoly. Maybe I’m hypersensitive about the American blind spot ( “Rest of the world? What rest of the world?” ) because I look at my server logs and see hits from lots of other countries, but sheesh – is too much to ask that the folks who run an enormously profitable global industry think globally and realistically?

Library

‘Bookshelf’ as a title for the post wouldn’t cover it. Books, bones, blankets and more from Steve and Libby’s home in New Mexico:

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Notice the thimble in the upper right (at least that’s what they’re called up here – would not be surprised to find there’s a great Spanish word that would be more appropriate in this case).

Another great bookshelf shot can be found here (click it, dammit). A range of interests? Yes!

If other folks have posted book-shots, I’d love to know – leave a comment or something. Technorati is only so-so at tracking links to a low traffic blog like mine…

Later – to clarify, picture credit belongs to Steve – he emailed the picture to me for posting here. Though I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the southwest (understatement!), the last time I was there (assuming that hill country Texas and front-range Colorado don’t count) was a looooong time ago.

…but the snake came back,

I thought he was a goner,
the snake came back (though not exactly the very next day)…

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Snakes are perfect office pets. They need to be fed every week or two, need fresh water more frequently, but don’t really care if you are out of the office for a long weekend. They’re also a great ice breaker – especially with kids. So – I had a corn snake (one that the boy and I had bred and hatched out) in a 20 gal. tank in the office. Early last fall I didn’t put the lid back on securely after showing him to a visitor; I came in the next morning to an empty enclosure. I searched thoroughly – nuthin’. I kept expecting him to turn up coiled behind a box on a shelf or out in the middle of the room early in the morning, but as time passed I figured he’d either found his way outside or had expired in a wall or dropped ceiling someplace.

I was watering some plants (aside – I need to post some pictures of the greenery soon – one of the ladyslippers is in bloom) in a neighboring room this morning and what should be coiled on a east-facing windowsill, waiting for the sun, but the long-lost corn snake looking pretty hale and hearty. I’m not sure where he’s going to end up – there’s a Pueblan milk snake doing office duty now – but it’s nice to see him again. I’m not sure whether he’s hungry, needs a little re-taming, or both, but once warmed up, he’s more than willing to strike. Maybe I should put up a no-smoking sign >grin<.

Bookshelf

Thinking about lots of things: language (reading Eco’s Search for the Perfect Language), privatization of state functions (cops and soldiers), laser (make Dr. Evil air quotes while reading, please) weapons, and the approach of spring. I’m also getting ready to do some vivarium work – rearrangement, new lights, etc. – thus, not a lot of blogging energy. Until I have something worth saying, another bookshelf shot:

Wordly Wise

Two new (to me) words that I like quite a bit:

  • Handwavium

The fictional material handwavium (similar to unobtainium) is sometimes referred to in situations where the solution requires access to a substance that is probably possible to create, but only by means which would require a great deal of research, development, time, effort, and/or money, none of which the speaker intends to explain at the moment. *

  • Beausage – probably pronounced byoosij, but I like the sound of bō-sahzh…

…it’s a synthetic combination of the words beauty and usage, and describes the beauty that comes with using something.

How, you may ask, is beausage any different than patina? Well, it’s certainly related, but different. Patina is really more about surface level changes happening at a chemical level: oxidation, chemical stripping, and so on. Beausage describes changes that happen in 3D where atoms get torn and stripped away, as occurs with scratches, tears, chips, and wear marks. *

For another nice example of beausage, see here.