Happy Sri Krishna Janmastami

Today is Sri Krishna Janmastami, the birthday celebration of Lord Krishna.

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Paul, Parasites, and the Prize

I haven't blogged on here since the last World Cup, but the superstition and science behind the Greatest Sporting Event in the World, have brought me back into the More Fantasticness fold.

First, Deutchland watched as Paul, the "Oracle Octopus," made his prediction for tomorrow's Germany-Spain match. Although Paul has been correct for the other German matches in this tournament, I still think Germany will prevail tomorrow (I've been amazed by the young German team's 4-goal games, even if they make the second half of each match boring).

Second, the Toxoplasma gondii parasite is oftentimes mentioned in the same breath as schizophrenia, but there may be a tie between Toxo prevalence in a country's population and the success of its football team in the World Cup tournament. Spain and Germany are running neck and neck if this is predictive of tomorrow's game; 44% of Espana's population has the bug, while 43% of Germany's population is infected. I love the idea of brain-altering parasites and the World Cup, because it gives the sport a sort of zombie-inflected edge.

Wild Honey

I was clearing out some old magazines when I found a clipping about Häagen Dazs save the bees campaign. It's still up: www.helpthehoneybees.com, and besides featuring some honey flavored ice cream, it directly busks on behalf of researchers at Penn State & UC Davis. It also asks you to support beekeepers and plant a garden. I then coincidentally checked World Changing for the first time in years, and there were some posts by Amanda Reed about bee issues.. While the Colony Collapse phenomena (which inspired the Häagen Dazs campaign) has somewhat abated and was a short term problem, wild bees (and their pollination services) may still be in long-term trouble. It seems that it's still not clear what's troubling American honeybees, but it also seems clear that wild pollinators deserve our support, regardless. The California Native Plant Society (or its like in other states) might be worth a stop if you're thinking of planting something new in your garden.

We Are What We Eat: Fulfilling Jamie Oliver's TED Wish

The TED Prize

Yesterday my sister excitedly told me to check out the newly announced TED prize wish: Jamie Oliver, the chef, has asked:

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

(The TED Prize winner gets $100,000 and a wish to change the world which TED and anyone can help fulfill.) The reason she was particularly excited was that only the previous night my mother and I had been having another impassioned discussion revisiting one of our pet wishes, approximately the same: that more people learn how to cook and eat healthy, vegetarian food, particularly vegetables and legumes. My mother and I were concerned about health, but also about the environmental and ethical implications of a diet high in meat and processed food. While Jamie wasn't particularly advocating vegetarianism, and it is possible to eat vegetarian and still eat too much fat, sugar, salt, and processed food, it is true that a diet which is high in legumes, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables is necessarily going to have both fewer poison calories and less meat. That's better for health, better for the planet, and more compassionate. So this is a train I can happily get on. (Skip down to my first contribution: local and national resources you can support and use.) I just watched Jamie give his TED talk, it's pretty good:




He focuses on the United States partially because we are exporting our way of life, and he believes that if we make the U-Turn the world will follow. He outlines the extent to which our collective diet is poisoning us and draining us of resources. He notes how three pillars of modern American culture (Main Street, The Home, & Schools) all systematically promote this poisonous diet. His wish is that we take a similarly three-pronged approach to change society: lobbying supermarkets for better information and governments for better regulation, teaching each other to cook and reviving the culture of cooking in the home, and teaching our children about vegetables and cooking in schools.

As a former teacher I cannot agree strongly enough. Teenagers love talking about--and eating--food but most American teenagers--even the relatively prosperous, eco-aware, gourmand ones I was teaching---do not know how to cook. As a chemistry teacher I noticed that the students who knew how to cook had an immediate leg up on chemistry, a deeply helpful extra reservoir of experience and intuition to draw upon when building mental models. So just as a science educator I advocated cooking education. (I feel that gardening is a similarly vital foundation for life sciences education. I was really gratified by the successes of the gardening program, a previous incarnation of which I had worked on as a student, and have been particularly inspired by news of my former students delving into urban farming since then.) But the lack of cooking education also concerned me because I realized many students were going to go away to college without the skills to cook for themselves, and that just didn't seem right--it really felt to me like we were failing them in some crucial way. It's far too easy to load up on processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt and starch (Tater Tots! aiee) in cafeterias, setting up cravings that will haunt them for the rest of their life.

I had learned how to cook as soon as I could reach all the controls and my mom thought it was safe to teach me. She taught me to cook with confidence and a flair for improv, reading cookbooks for inspiration, not marching orders. Her funny mnemonics and cheerful fixing of my little errors are some of my favorite memories of being a teenager, and we still trade recipes we've made up. Watching Jamie's video, I am almost gut punched by the notion that generations of Americans have lost out on the deeply meaningful experience of learning to cook from their parents and guardians as teenagers. To me it's almost the essence of growing up. Every child should have the joy of one day cooking and feeding their parents a tasty dinner.

In terms of addressing the direction of Main Street, we can start with Jamie's petition (I've added a badge to the More Fantasticness sidebar.) Besides creating a movement building organization, Jamie made a really good point about supporting existing projects. So I thought I'd highlight some I either knew or have found, mostly local to the Oakland/Berkeley part of the Bay Area. You'll notice there's a lot of gardening mixed up with the food education below. That's because some of the best healthy-food curricula has a gardening component, and because in my experience just a little bit of contact with vegetable gardening or garden fresh produce automatically creates an appreciation for healthier meals.

Resources:

East Bay Projects

West Oakland didn't have access to fresh produce, so its residents started a cooperative grocery store, Mandela Foods. Another source of fresh produce for West Oakland's kids is the nonprofit City Slicker Farms. The Oakland Unified School District has a Garden Council that community members can get involved with to support garden-based food curriculum, and the City of Oakland has a community gardening program. Bay Localize is supporting a rooftop garden at E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in East Oakland. Helen Krayenhoff's 2010 Calendar (still 88% useful!) supports Oakland school garden programs. OUSD may have more healthy food options in its future with help from the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the national groups Farm to School Network & School Food Focus, according to the website Oakland North. Berkeley's Ecology Center has community and school garden programs you can get involved with, and Farmer's Markets you can shop at. (There are also great farmer's markets you can shop at in Oakland & Contra Costa.) and I'm not sure what's the status of Berkeley's School Lunch Initiative, since it's first grant from the Chez Panisse Foundation apparently ran out last year (SFGate article), but I'll try to find out. UC Davis works with Alameda County to support garden-based nutrition. There's also Urban Youth Harvest in Oakland, which rescues delicious garden fruit from a rotten fate.

National Organizations

Nationally (besides ">CAFF, Farm to School Networks & School Food Focus noted above) you can support Growing Power Inc, whose founder, Will Allen, won a MacArthur Genius prize in 2008 for his vision of urban food renewal.

In my humble opinion, the easiest way to educate yourself about our crazy food system is to read about it. The godfather of food system writing is Berkeley's own Michael Pollan, who has many books on the subject. There's also Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. You can watch Supersize Me on Hulu for free. I haven't had a chance to read Raj Patel's Food Rebellions, but it looks interesting.

Cookbooks, etc.
Some of my favorite cookbooks are:
Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi
Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking

Cooking from An Italian Garden
Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special
Everyday Greens: Homecooking from the Celebrated Vegetarian Restaurant

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
and more recently
The Complete Tassajara Cookbook
and the wonderful Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Bittman is really great and if you haven't watched his hilarious NYTimes blog and video series Bitten/The Minimalist, you haven't lived. (Try mashed potatoes with greens or the sweet potato salad.)

Make Your Own Post Like This! Make Your Own Contribution!

If you're not in the East Bay and don't know where to start, you could probably construct a post for your own blog with links just like mine above with a little searching and calling around--try starting with farmer's markets, local university gardening extensions and local science education centers. Spread the information around to your community network and solicit support for the community groups doing the heavy lifting! Have casual dinner parties and deliberately healthy potlucks. (Spring is coming! Which means, picnics!) Spend some time with a kid who wants to learn how to cook showing them the kitchen ropes. Share recipes and patronize healthy restaurants. I for one will try to volunteer more with local organizations and share more recipes, both virtually on this blog and, more vitally, by feeding my friends. I think this is potentially the easiest TED wish I've ever thought of contributing to, and I hope you will too. (Contact TED here.) Please also send me information about any organizations you think I should update the post with.

Coolio

I cannot leave you without including the best cooking video ever: Coolio makes delicious spinach:

Bon Appetit!

Help for Haiti

Deja vu in all the worst ways. Once again, I feel the need to blog in the face of disaster. Haiti has been struck by a terrible earthquake, and I'd like to post a link to a way you might be able to help. The Haiti Emergency Relief Fund was sent to me by a local activist I know who's very dedicated to Haiti and its people. Haiti is just about the last place on earth that can deal with such a disaster, and the best I can think of is to stand by the friends who've been standing by that impoverished nation all along.

Here's a little beautiful Arcade Fire song to show some of the people who now, even more than before, could use a little help. Arcade Fire has previously done a concert to benefit Haiti in conjunction with Partners In Health, another devoted charity.


I feel a little embarrassed that I've drifted away from my once fervent, if possibly overwrought, dreams of Recovery 2.0, but here's my bit for now. The web has changed so much since then that when reading those old posts I can hardly sort the still relevant from the anachronistic. But what hasn't changed is the random sense of connection we start to feel for people near and far, and if that can't be utilized to help those in need in such a time as this, then this whole thing might be useless.

Ozge Samanaci: ART!

Yesterday I went to a wonderfully stimulating and lively talk/discussion by Berkeley professor Greg Niemeyer about the internet as an oral medium; I'm still processing it and won't do it the injustice of trying to summarize it here. A happy side benefit, however, was that I met Ozge Samanaci for the second time (the first time was at a lecture by recent MacArthur prize winner Camille Utterback a few weeks ago), and this time I managed to write her name down correctly and find her website, Ordinary Things (ordinarycomics.com) and I like it! She has a daily webcomic journal of water color collage drawings, and they're lovely and unique and thought-provoking.

14september2009_ozge_samanci.jpg

I also particularly like this one and this one, but the website is very much worth a long deep visit.

Digital Alarms

Today, for some reason, I have been particularly jostled by noise. My neighborhood has, perhaps, more than its fair share of sirens, barking pit bulls, screeching cars and echoing circle drums whose rhythms are shifted and dented during their downwind drift. I have at least three musical neighbors who host amplified band parties. My house itself is creaky, with lovely bits of bamboo striking the windows the way nails hate on a chalkboard. But what really got me today was all kinds of alarms going off. I unplugged an extraneous cordless phone so I could use its outlet to vacuum and an hour later it started bleating like its phony heart would break, just infrequently enough that it took me 20 minutes to locate the problem. A neighbor's mysterious device would not shut up. And three separate car alarms went off throughout the day, for no discernible reason (I went out and checked--each mewling car was alone, no one else in site for yards.) This reminded me of my friend Aaron Friedman's ballyhooed work against car alarms in New York City. According to Aaron, research shows that those loud honking car alarms do little to actually prevent theft, despite being a factory default "perk," the removal of which is often an extra cost at the dealership. Today I had the bizarre insight that all these alarms are, in fact, digital---their going on and off is dictated by a microcontroller, and the sound itself often involves a synthetically generated or recorded sound. So why not make them more articulate? When my car alarm goes off, at least let it tell me that it is, in fact, my carl alarm going off. (I wouldn't mind a Stephen Hawking voice declaring, "Saheli's Honda Needs Help! Saheli's Honda Needs Help!") My cordless phone could tell me, "Cordless Phone Requires Charge!" The neighbor's mysterious device could let me know what it was about to do. ("Rocket Cleared for Launch! Rocket Cleared for Launch!")

(After winning some legislative and programmatic victories in New York, Aaron went on to found an annual Summer Solstice city-wide music festival, Make Music NY, patterned after the French Fête de la Musique.)

In Praise of The Census

This AP headline from TPM heated my blood to a boil: Census Worker Hanged with 'Fed' On Body. 51-year old Bill Sparkman was a census worker, and his body was found on 9/12 in a remote, rural area of Kentucky. TPM has its own follow up report today, by Zachary Roth.

First of all, it's possible this was not an attack on a federal employee merely because of his association with our federal government. We'll have to wait and see what investigators find. But the fact that it's even a realistic possibility, and that the census has to stop in Clay County, and that Census workers have to be afraid of doing their jobs infuriates me.

The Census (or Enumeration) is an intrinsic part of the American constitution; its function and reliability one of the few institutions taken for granted by the framers. It is a fundamental function of any nation wishing to hold itself together. Whether you are a tribe on the march, a city planning a festival, or group of school children and teachers on a field trip, you need to keep count of all the people. The Census is the foundation of democracy, the gold standard for knowing who we, the people, actually are. Census data is a starting point for almost every kind of policy analysis, and its invaluable for political reporters, business people, academics, teachers and school children, people just wanting to know who their neighbors are.

If you have a problem with the census, you don't just have a problem with the Obama administration or even the Federal government or the idea of a democractic Republic. You have a problem with living in any kind of useful society. And since humans are social creatures, you need to get your head examined.

I'd say go hug a census worker today, but that's probably against the rules and not good for their health. But please be nice to them when you see them.

The Girls of Afghanistan

Today I rediscovered my friend PJ Tobia's Afghan Desk blog at True-Slant. PJ is living the modern J-school dream--not just the crazy work of being a freelance war-zone correspondent (here's a WaPo article from last December), but also blogging and working at a media nonprofit, the Killid Group.).

The post he has up top right now put a big smile on my face. It's called "Girls in the Trunk of a Car" and while it's a traffic safety nightmare, it's also pretty adorable.

Further down he has a post that makes you want to cry, especially after you've seen those beautiful smiling girls. It's called "This is What An Abused Afghan Woman Looks Like," and he describes two horrifying, misogynistic injuries to two Afghan girls, linking to a photo of one. The other is a quote from Johann Hari's Slate review of Nicholas and Sheryl Kristof's new book, "Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Half the Women Worldwide." And what is our duty in all of this? PJ writes,

The US could take a much stronger tack in pursuing an agenda of women’s rights in Afghanistan, but doing so would likely jeopardize relationships with the above-mentioned warlords, who we need to make any kind of progress here. It sickens me that with tens-of-thousands of US soldiers on the ground here (some of whom, I might add, are women) females are still essentially prisoners in their own homes and considered property to be used for barter.
He acknowledges work American soldiers have done opening womens centers and schools, but bemoans a lack of policy aimed at pushing Afghanistan towards a more egalitarian legal system. Caitlin Kelly, another True/Slant blogger who recently wrote a book about American women and guns, chimed in, wanting to know what, exactly, PJ thought America should be doing. He admitted he didn't have any easy answers--but were we really using the power we have as leverage on behalf of these girls?

There are plenty of people who think we have no business being in Afghanistan at all, and that it's absurd to talk about helping little Afghan girls when we so frequently end up bombing them. I'm still trying to educate myself about the whys and hows of Afghanistan, and will refrain from comment on the mission itself. (Though I will take a moment to plug one of my favorite charities, CIVIC, which aims to fight civilian casualties instead of merely ignoring them.)

Let us take it for granted, for the sake of discussion, that we have a genuine security and humanitarian interest in Afghanistan, and that our mission is at least roughly aligned with the interests of both the Afghani state and the Afghani people. What, exactly, can we do as a government and a military ally, in order to forcefully insist that the laws of the countries we deal with not be genocidally misogynistic? (And, by extension, what sort of policy action can we as citizens pressure our government to undertake in our name?) The controversy this summer over Karzai's passage of an oppressive bill stirred up the usual problem: if you're going to encourage a country to have elections and representative government, you can't really force the legislative body to vote a particular way--even if you think their elections might not be fair. As a military ally you can either participate or not participate, and America has committed to participating regardless. So are there additional pressure points within the framework of alliance? Economic pressures? Political pressure? A way of speaking directly to the Afghan legislature? Because as long as this horrific misogyny persists, we cannot properly "stand on this earth as men and women".

While I think it's important to keep trying to find political tools for these big scale problems, in the mean time, people can always try to help each other across borders.

A California Constitutional Convention

Robin Sloan at Snarkmarket linked to an LATimes opinion piece proposing that California not only hold a Constitutional Convention but that it select the delegates by random draft, much like the jury system. After very briefly summarizing arguments against elected and appointed delegates, Steven Hill wrote:

The Bay Area Council, a group of business leaders, has proposed randomly selecting 400 Californians to create a body of average citizens who could bring their common sense and pragmatism to the problems at hand. Those delegates would be paid to participate for eight months, starting with an intensive two-month education process in which they would hear from many experts about the problems and potential solutions for California.

Steven Hill is a policy director Steve Coll's[1] New America Foundation; it seems to me Hill (and the headline editor) are loosely hinting at an endorsement of The Bay Area Council's scheme. The Bay Area Council is the main organizations headlining efforts to call such a convention--and it is joined by joined both by our Republican Governator and at least one Democratic State Senator (Mark DeSaulnier, who may end up succeeding Ellen Tauscher in Congress), as well as the Los Angeles Times editorial board. This Sacramento Bee column by Dan Walters seems like the best even-handed summary of the idea and the actual mechanics that the Bay Area Council is pushing for.

Robin thought The Bay Area Council's proposal reminded him of Stanford's Deliberative Polling®. I thought it reminded me of the recent creation of the Japanese jury system which Robin had blogged about last November. The Japanese mixture of regular citizens and judges made me wonder if we wouldn't be better served by a constitutional convention that combined the three delegate selection methods Hill describes. Hill dismisses electing the delegates rather quickly:

But if we elect the delegates just as we elect the Legislature, the results likely would mirror a Legislature widely viewed as a failure.
There's a lot of assumptions packed into the "just as we elect" and I was askance at his quick dismissal of the entire notion of elections. That is, after all, what the democratic system is built on, and it's worthwhile to take a moment and meditate on the specific ills of the California legislature before dismissing the entire process. (It struck me slightly akin to a doctor advising a widow to date robots: "if you marry another human being they might get sick and die! Humans do that!") As the Wikipedia entry helpfully reminds us, the California Legislature is currently bound by the unusual requirement for a 2/3 majority in budgetary votes. Changing this is the most specific and obvious aim of the convention, and while the convention itself should probably require a 2/3 majority, there are other ways to make sure we don't get sucked into gridlock. The state representatives are usually elected from a party vs. party race, post primary, often making the dominant party primary the deciding election and shutting out moderates---we could instead hold a single, competitive election in each district. (Maybe use instant run off?) The state assembly members can have up to 6 years of incumbency and state senate members have up to 8 years; a simple requirement that the constitutional delegates can't have served in elected office in the last 15 years would bring in plenty of new blood. There are lots of possibilities.

I am innately suspicious of adopting The Bay Area Council's proposed procedure for a few reasosn. First of all, I'm just skeptical that their interests would be perfectly aligned with mine, the state as a whole, or the future state as a whole. Since they've had money and time and brains to throw at the problem, they're more likely to have picked a procedure perfectly aligned with their interests than with mine, the state's population, or the state's future population. Secondly, I am very suspicious of the leave-Prop-13-alone bit that Dan Walter's column cites as being part of their proposal. Why that proposition above all others? By definition it is biased towards benefitting the owners of quickly appreciating properties, the more previously purchased the better. There's a lot of timeline evidence that it has led to California's steady decline. Thirdly, I have my own concerns about the California system that The Bay Area Council does not seem to be addressing. One of them is my desire that California's public education system be reinstated to some fraction of its former glory, a great churning engine of upward mobility and creatitivity, with the three tiered higher education system (community colleges, state universities, and the Univesity of California) being able to have a more stable and sustaining fiscal structure. The second is my desire that making sure that a minority can't have its rights taken away by a scant majority. The third is my desire to make the management of California's environment more transparent. I am interested in finding organizations, groups and thinkers who are probably more aligned with my interests than The Bay Area Business Council. Please help me if you can!

[1] Did you know journalist Steve Coll had founded such a large policy organization? I had no idea!

Peacably To Assemble

On the wall above my bed hangs a poster of Faith Ringold's painting, Freedom of Speech, the American flag inscribed with the First Amendment and the names of controversial and archetypal American figures. I bought the poster when I was in journalism school and when cynical pragmatism could only get me through the day and not go sleep, I let its lyrical lines be my sentimental lullaby.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As a religious minority, the first clause has always been an anchor to my most basic, childish sense of safety in being myself. As a writer and a journalist, the second clause has been ananchor to my safety in thinking and expressing. Oddly enough, the most emphatic language is left for the habit I practice the least and feel the least secure about--gathering peacefully is a right. In the language of the Declaration, it might be seen as an unalienable right, one recognized already in the late 1700s as universal and sensible. We Americans rarely do this public assembly and grievance protesting thing because we are afraid of inconvenience, cold, heat, crowds, germs, getting arrested, getting a mark on are record, getting accidentally hurt, getting hurt on purpose by rogue agents of the government, getting hurt on purpose in a sneaky and underhanded, conspiratorial way by a government sometimes harboring conspiratorial agencies. These things--which really, happen pretty rarely here, even in the worst of cases--are enough to stop us from standing up for what we believe in or even for what is best for us. Does anyone sensible stand in witness these days any more, anyway? Well, we stand corrected.

I have long taken the language of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence to be a universal statement, applicable to all peoples; the American part is only the application of those ideas to the specific case and locale of the 13 North American colonies wrenching away from Great Britain. The fundamental idea--that we have an unalienable, innate right to believe, practice, talk, think, gather and complain--applies to all people. I realize that figureheads can be previous tyrants. I realize that there is an awful lot of intrigue and power-trading happening behind the scenes. And I realize that little may come of the current movement, as in the past, and that even if it continues it may be a long, slow haul. I realize that sitting at my computer I'm not being terribly helpful. But I still want to say that I stand with anyone willing to still stand for themselves after so much oppression. There are not American people with our civil rights over here and Iranian people with their civil rights over there. There are human beings with human rights, and citizens of the world with a duty to do what is right by themselves, their children, their future and their world. We should stand together. I hope one day we can.

Stepping Forward

I liked this part from one of Matthew Yglesias's posts regarding Barack Obama's win of the Democratic nomination:

Relative to Clinton, you see two people with similar policy agendas. But Clinton comes from a school of politics that says liberalism can't really win on the questions of war and peace, identity and authenticity, crime and punishment. It says that we live in a fundamentally conservative nation, and that the savvy progressive politician kind of burrows in and tries to make the best of a bad situation. It's an attitude very much borne of the brutally difficult experience of organizing for McGovern in Texas and running for governor in Arkansas at the height of Reaganism. Relative to McCain, Obama thinks it's possible to accomplish things in the world. He thinks the United States faces a lot of serious international challenges, but doesn't see them as primarily driven by menacing and implacable foes. Obama thinks that a combination of visionary leadership and shrewd bargaining can greatly improve our ability to tackle key priorities without any great expenditure of our resources.

(Emphases mine.) If the 90s were an era of hope, then the generation formed during that era--my generation--may very well have a fundamental and unshakable belief in our ability to fix the future. As we come of operational age--not just the age to cast votes, but the age to move and shake--we may demand a sea change in liberal attitudes.

I have a friend whose physicist father likes to note that knowing a solution is possible is a huge help to finding that solution. In an arena as complex as, oh, fixing the world, finding future "solutions" requires both a healthy attachment to facts and evidence and a healthy ability to guess and approximate, to dare, to insist. Can we balance these demands, dramatically changing our future course without succumbing to either foolhardy risk or mind-numbing caution? I think the answer is yes, yes we can.

Happy 522

A few hours ago a glorious full moon rose over the land of Nadia, greeted with bugling conches and the sweet thunder of beating drums. The joyful noise is following it across the globe, in many town and villages, and soon enough it will be here. It's Gaur Purnima, the start of Gaurabda 522, and for all of you I wish a new year and a new season of kindness and good works. If you are so inclined, accepted my obeisances and wishes for a weekend of singing and dancing and feasting---otherwise, Happy Holi as well!

WANTED: Carpooling Application

Either this exists or someone should make it. Now! Pretty please? (I.e. please tell me what it is so I can get my sys-admin to set it up/install it or please build it.)

It's very common for workplaces to have commuting employees who commute from clusters in the surrounding areas. If employees have very set routines, then its easy for them to form carpooling teams. If, however, there's a fair bit of variety in their routine--when they want to arrive, when they want to leave, how much room they'll have in their car b/c they might have to bring something big to work---then it becomes hard to form regular carpooling teams. Many such workers might not really settle on what the next day is going to look like until shortly before bedtime the previous day (having checked evening email, finished their dayplanning, consulted with significant others or family). At that point it's very impractical to go down the roster of uncommitted but interested proximate commuters, cold-calling to find a match, hoping to avoid waking early sleepers or babies. What would be really useful would be the ability to simply notify some central database of carpooling irregulars with one's particulars (location, earliest leave-the-house time, desired arrival time, earliest-leave-work time, desired end-time, willingness to drive, available seats), go to bed, wake up, and check one's phone for match results and instructions. (I.e. "yes, you drive, pick up Yvette (address) then Kumar (address), Kumar must leave work by 5pm)" or "no, sorry, no one can carpool with you today.")

Is this really too much to hope for? The future is now!

Realistically this probably isn't going to do much for me, b/c my workplace isn't big enough, but it might help, and the probability of it helping would increase with the size of the workplace and the number of its neighbors.

What I've found so far are a website called Ridesearch.com and a Facebook application called Zimride, which I think is commendable. However, I think these are the wrong venues for a lot of people. They're not focused enough. I know that my fellow employees are unlikely to register for either of these. They'd be particularly warying of giving Facebook their cell phone number. But they might go for somethig sponsored and hosted by our employer. Also, I'm slightly wary of using Facebook or the web to vet whose car I'm getting into, and these just search too wide a field. It's true that Zimride recognizes the need for one-time carpool matching. But it appears it doesn't quite do the geography matching/morning text-message one-time on-demand arrangement I'm talking about.(Maybe I'm just bitter because neither of these found a match for me--so I can't really test them. But that' my point!) There are plenty of ways to arrange steady, long-term carpools. I'm looking for a tool for the commitment-phobic. Maybe Ridesearch.com or Zimride could provide company-specific version, much like Google produces Google Apps for companies to use internally? I also found a webpage for an Australian server-side program that sounds more geared towards long-term arrangements.

Anyway, pointers/wholesale creation would be much appreciated. Please pass on to your faorite Web 2.0 experts or engineers in case they can find it or build it.

Yarn Squid

Asad sent me this, and I thought it was awesome. Happy Holidays everyone!

The Birth on the Eighth Day of the Moon

Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam. The whole universe is one family.

The half moon is hurtling over the surface of the planet, and just as each earthly meridian loses complete sight of the sun, a joyous noise rises up in commemorative greeting--a dark dungeon, a trek through the midnight rain, and so much moonlit joy at the arrival of that Sweetest Little Prince, . . ..if it so pleases you, please have a very Happy Shri Krishna Janmastami!

Octosquid!

This is kind of old news now, but better late than never: A new species of squid has been found off the coast of Hawaii that has eight arms. The discoverers called it an "octosquid". [Honolulu Star Bulletin article]

[octosquid]

It isn't actually a cross between an octopus and a squid. Rather, it's a member of the squid genus Mastigoteuthis, but of a previously unknown species. Wikipedia now has an octosquid article which explains that most squid have eight arms and two tentacles, but this one does not have the tentacles. (I never knew that there was a difference between arms and tentacles! I just thought that squid had ten tentacles.)

The Wikipedia article also points out that this is actually not so unprecedented. Squid in the family Octopoteuthidae also have eight arms and no tentacles. In fact, there are already a couple of species called the Ruppell's Octopus Squid and the Dana Octopus Squid. But it's still fun. :)

Cthulhu the Wifi Hub

Cthulhu the Wifi Hub

I went to see Live Free or Die Hard last night, and the bad guys hack the computer systems of the country. The problem with computer hacker villains, though, is that they just don't present the kind of visceral sense of danger that an action movie needs.

So here's my attempt to depict my networking hardware with a sense of menace. :P

(More thoughts about the movie in my flickr post.)

Octopus As Bottle-Opener

One like this would be handy to have around the house.

John Edwards Tells Us: Your Country Needs You

JohnEdwardsSJSU.jpg
When Saheli told me our little brother Ben Brandzel had chosen to work for John Edwards's campaign, I knew I wanted to learn more about Edwards. I was impressed by reading and viewing his speeches, and by his efforts to urge Congress to stand firm in ending the war on Iraq. On Thursday I attended Edwards's Small Change For Big Change event at San José State University.

We generally expect politicians to tell us what they will do for us. What moved me most was not what John Edwards promised us, but what he asked of us. John F. Kennedy famously said: "Ask not what your country can do for you---ask what you can do for your country." It's been a long time since I've heard a public call to sacrifice, yet this is precisely what constitutes leadership. John Edwards OneCorps is not just a campaign organization, but also puts these ideals into action: "John Edwards One Corps members aren't waiting until the election to help build the one America we all believe in - we also engage in local service projects and issue advocacy to start transforming America today." For instance, the Orlando One Corps is holding a Canned Food Drive today.

When Edwards called us to action against poverty and disease, in America and around the world, he said we could not just stand by: "We're better than this." The beauty of this statement is that if, looking through the jaundiced eyes of cynicism, we evaluate it as a vote-getting strategy, we can only conclude that he wouldn't think it is a vote-getting strategy unless he actually believed that we are better, or aspire to be.

I was particularly heartened when Edwards said, "Instead of spending 500 billion dollars in Iraq, ...suppose America led an international effort to make sanitation and clean drinking water available in the Third World." This is a cause that is dear to my heart, as Saheli noted when she mentioned my frequent touting of WaterPartners International. Improving sanitation and access to clean drinking water has enormous leverage in the effort to eradicate global poverty and disease. It doesn't require new ideas or technology, simply our will to make it happen. As Peter Singer wrote in the New York Times Magazine last December, we can achieve not only this but all the Millennium Development Goals, with little hardship to any of us. I hope that Edwards's vision will catalyze this movement.

Afterward I met Edwards briefly and asked him about maintaining America's scientific and technical leadership, specifically through the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He said that funding for these agencies should be "significantly enhanced", and apologized that he wasn't able to give me more specifics right at that moment. I look forward to learning more about what he proposes from his campaign.

ToastyKen saw Edwards speak on Wednesday, and blogged about it.

Crossposted to Mind Without Borders.

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