Sunday, December 30, 2007

Visit New Orleans

The thought of visiting New Orleans keeps popping into my head. Not to go strictly as a tourist looking for "good times" and the "old" New Orleans, but to see how the rebuilding process is going and to see how the city and its neighborhoods are evolving.

Alas, I am too busy at work and my budget is too constrained to pursue such a visit right now, but it is something I will consider in the future.

I am also wondering what the cost of living is like and whether investing in a condo or house or simply some property might be an interesting retirement option.

I think the last time I visited was in 1986, but I do recall attending the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans and seeing the space shuttle Enterprise (prototype that never flew), the actual African Queen boat from the movie (and seeing the movie on TV the night before), and eating lots of Gulf oysters.

Oddly, New Orleans never pops into my mind when I try to think of places to visit, but it truly is one of the special destinations in the U.S. and deserves to by high up on the all-time list of places to visit.

-- Jack Krupansky

Torture and involuntary interrogation - the human mind is sovereign

There has certainly been a lot of discussion and angst expressed over the meaning of and use of torture in interrogation of terrorist suspects. Years ago I thought about this issue and concluded that the only real solution was to simply ban involuntary interrogation in any form. If a prisoner or even a citizen or non-citizen being questioned by law enforcement authorities declines to answer questions, the "interrogation" is over. Sure, "the authorities" can offer some degree of positive incentives to encourage participation in questioning, but it has to be crystal clear that any such participation is not coerced in any way. If the subject agrees to answer questions, the process is one of "conversational questioning" rather than "pressured interrogation." In short, voluntary questioning is okay, but involuntary or coerced or forced interrogation should be out.

We need to take the concept of protection against self-incrimination seriously and simply not go there or anywhere even close to it. We need an outright ban on confessions since it is far too easy to coerce them without even trying.

Rather than focus on a precise definition of torture, I would focus on the coercive aspect of interrogation. If the process of questioning begins to take on a coercive, abusive, forceful, pressured character, the line has been crossed and that is not acceptable. We should not require the character of the questioning to cross from merely forceful to painful or to some arbitrary level of pain before we draw the line and call it torture. The only line that is necessary to recognize is that the subject (prisoner or citizen or non-citizen) has declined to participate in questioning. And even if the subject has agreed to questioning, the character of the questioning must be limited to a strictly conversational and non-pressured tone.

In short, let us formally ban both involuntary interrogation and interrogation that attempts to utilize any form of pressure, physical, intellectual, mental, emotional, financial, social, or otherwise.

Basically, we need to revamp our constitution to make it crystal clear that the government has no right to access that which is in our mind nor any right to attempt to negatively induce us to grant access to that which is in our minds. The constitution needs to recognize that the human mind is sovereign and beyond the reach of the government or any law enforcement authority.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 29, 2007

There Will Be Blood

I was looking forward to seeing There Will Be Blood, the new movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, but it still isn't widely shown here in the Bellevue, WA area. Actually, I am sure it is probably overrated, but I do enjoy Mr. Lewis' acting range. He should have gotten Best Actor for Gangs of New York, but unfortunately he was up against a Holocaust movie that year so he didn't have a chance.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am an oilman."

As the price of oil appraches $100 (again), you can't be more evil than that.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, December 24, 2007

Space, the final frontier?

We are all familiar with the intro to the old Star Trek show, "Space, the final frontier", but in the virtual universe of the online "world" what is the nature of "space" and is it really a frontier?

Most people would agree that linear distance is completely irrelevant in the online world, where computer systems thousands of miles apart might as well be in the next room and a click could take you to data less than an inch away or a world away. An exception is that once we start communicating outside of the physical earth (e.g., Mars or deep space probes), latency becomes a very real issue.

Density of "space" (in terms of computing nodes or locations of files) is similarly completely irrelevant in the online world.

Space in terms of quantity of bits and bytes and data fields and database records is also completely irrelevant in the online world, with the exceptions of 1) occasional lack of local storage space due to artificial "quotas", and 2) latency and access time.

The next form of space is page layout. In print, writers have very hard and fixed boundaries for the amount of text and graphics that can be included in their stories. Getting an extra inch or page requires mighty effort. The Web page has no such limits. As such, space on web pages is effectively infinite and not a frontier at all.

But, there is another form of space online, screen size. The client device, typically a PC, does in fact have a relatively limited amount of space available. Sure, you can scroll and page through your large web pages, but there is a usability factor at work as well. Most "readers" do not read sequentially at all, but scan and bounce around. Their attention span for "viewing" a web page is limited, so asking them to scroll and page and click to get to the rest of the content is frequently too much to ask. The average reader has an unlimited number of content sources and will migrate to wherever screen size limitations are most respected.

Blogs and RSS readers introduce another layer  of space constraint. Sure, you can still page and link to get to unlimited amounts of space, but there is a clear premium value given to terse and concise blog posts that convey the essential meaning of a post in a single "view" in a small subset of the total screen space without demanding extra effort on the part of the user.

Finally, there is an even more intense constraint, or frontier if you will, imposed by accessing online content on a handheld mobile device such as a smartphone. Sure, you can certainly zoom and scroll and page and link to access an infinite amount of content, there is a clear premium value given to content providers who can format and express essential meaning in small-screen chunks.

So, in some sense the online world frees us of the limits and frontiers of three-dimensional and print space, but our access devices and human perceptual limitations give us new frontiers to tackle. We can look forward to a wealth of innovation in how to express, chunk, format, view, and navigate within online content in the years to come. Even the vaunted iPhone only scratches the surface. Even Google has not yet mastered the small screen.

Given the ease with which we can construct large computer networks with vast amounts of data storage and the vast, unlimited expanse of the Web, it certainly does feel as if the small screen of handheld devices is in fact a true frontier where opportunity is unlimited and existing solutions are quite limited.

-- Jack Krupansky

New Year's resolutions for 2008

I usually do not bother with New Year's resolutions, but I have concluded that it never hurts to have goals or targets even if they are not ironclad commitments. So, here is my list of goals for 2008:

  1. Better nutrition
  2. Lose weight
  3. Spend less
  4. Save more
  5. Read more
  6. Write more
  7. Blog more
  8. Enhance my job and work life
  9. Do more professional networking
  10. Understand the world better

None of these goals have specific targets, but are simply areas for me to contemplate on a semi-regular basis.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Should I get a Mac?

Should my next personal computer be an Apple Mac?

Sure, there are all sorts of technical pros and cons for why you should consider a Mac versus a PC, but I was just starting to think about how to think about 2008 as a fresh new year and trying to come up with a list of little things I could change in my life that may have a big impact. Switching from a PC to a Mac seems to be one of those ideas to consider.

Do not get me wrong, I am not at this point seriously considering going out and buying a Mac for myself for Christmas, but at least it is an interesting intellectual exercise.

To me, the important question is what ways might the use of a Mac impact or influence or change the way that I think or change what I think about in a way that is truly dramatic and will make a big difference in my life in the coming year? I do not have a proposed answer to that question yet, but that is the question I will contemplate. Maybe some insightful readers will share their own answers and experiences.

My current view is that I can do most of what I want to do on a PC (browse the web, send and receive email, blog, etc.) The real question is whether a Mac would somehow provide a whole new level of capability and inspiration that would enable and assist me in rising to a whole new level of performance.

I do have the simple answer: Who knows?

Maybe I'll wander into the local Apple retail store here in downtown Bellevue, WA and ask their sales staff that question, or a variant: I am reasonably happy with Windows and my Toshiba notebook computer... how might a Mac change my life? If I am happy with Windows and Office and Internet Explorer, what will the Mac add to my life?

Will I be a better blogger with a Mac?

Will I write better email with a Mac?

Will a Mac help me search the Internet more effectively and produce more insightful results?

Will a Mac help me stay up on the news more effectively?

-- Jack Krupansky


Today I wrote "2008" in the present tense for the first time. Actually, I was simply writing my postdated January apartment rent check in advance so that it would be ready to drop off on January 1, 2008 without any additional effort, but still it gave me a little pause. The good news is that unlike every past year I can remember, I did not automatically write the old year without thinking. This is a very little progress on one front in my life, but at least it was progress. The real point is that this simple act caused me to start to contemplate what kind of year it would be. Would it simple be a rerun or extension of 2007, a great year, a terrible year, simply mediocre, or a solid-C "okay" year? I am thinking the latter, but who knows.

Sure, there are a lot of highly predictable "events" that will occur in 2008, especially given that it is a presidential election year where a non-incumbent is guaranteed to be elected. Sure, the precise outcome is not known, but when all of the predictable dust settles, how much of a surprise will any of it really be? Your personal predictions may end up being far off base, but you will probably be able to say, at least to yourself, "Yeah, a missed that one, but I could have guessed it anyway."

I would like to come up with some predictions for 2008, and probably will, but right now I am drawing a blank. I know that I will come up with some finance and economic-oriented "predictions", and political predictions are as easy to offer as shooting fish in a barrel, but I am definitely stumped as to some out-of-the-box predictions that do not sound totally lame.

That at least suggests a category of activity that I need to engage in over the remaining days of the year: start packing up the mindset of the Year 2007 and begin placing it in mental "storage" and clear the mental deck to make room for at least trying to think freshly about the coming year.

Actually, here are a few questions related to thinking freshly about 2008 that just popped into my head:

  1. What trends are declining and unlikely to influence events in 2008 as much as in recent years?
  2. What trends are rising in strength and likely to more strongly influence events in 2008?
  3. What big problems or looming crises could demand bold solutions in 2008?
  4. What current problems and perceived crises of the past months could quickly peter out and not divert as much attention, energy, and resources as in 2007?
  5. How many influential and active Baby Boomers may be retiring in 2008, enabling the rise of new talent?
  6. How many Generation Y and young New Millennials may jump onto the national stage and begin to exert influence, either as individuals, organizations, businesses, work forces, or simply collectively as demographic shifts that draw power away from the constituencies that dominated 2007?
  7. What categories of new products and services could suddenly change the way large numbers of people think about a lot of things, and in ways that did not occur over the current year?
  8. Will evidence of global warming and climate change accelerate and dominate political, economic, and social discourse, or decelerate and recede from being a perceived "crisis"?
  9. Will the Middle Class continue to shrink and die off or will there be a resurgence fueled by service-based employees getting big enough raises and hiring enough new employees and housing prices falling enough that we start to see a hint of the rise of a New Middle Class.
  10. Will we see growing cynicism and pessimism or a resurgence of optimism?

Hmmm... I still don't have any bold predictions to make.

One thing that I am looking forward to very much is reading the many answers to the Edge Annual Question for 2008 that comes out online on New Year's Eve. The responses are always filled with a lot of great insight and provocation. The Edge Question for 2007 was What are you Optimistic About?

-- Jack Krupansky