Here’s an idea

Okay, okay, I know that I said no more politics posts, but this one is slightly different.

I’m not exactly sure where to find this data, but I’m under the (perhaps mis-) impression that some campaigns end up with a surplus once the election is over. Particularly the national committees. (I’ve always heard anecdotes about “campaign coffers” and “war chests” in off-election years).

On November 5th, any and all surplus funds that the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin campaigns have should be turned over to the treasury to finance the bailout. Any and all surplus funds raised within any of the U.S. House and Senate races get turned over to the treasury to finance the bailout. All money currently raised by incumbent Senators not up for re-election this year, gets turned over.

The campaigns and the national committees will be allowed to hold a portion of funds for operating expenses. A volunteer independent panel of American citizens that do not have family or direct business ties to the national committees and campaigns will be selected, similar to how juries are selected, to review and make decisions on the “fair wages” (operating budgets) of the staffs of the campaigns and committees.

For the next year for all House candidates and those Senate candidates up for re-election in 2010, and for the next two years for all others, including the DNC and RNC – they will solicit contributions to the campaigns as normal, but all funds, minus operating expenses, will go to the bailout.

All public financing is cut off and that money shifted to the bailout.

Those campaign bailout investments, once recouped from those institutions that the government is investing in, will be directly returned to the campaigns, along with all investment earnings (calculated as a flat percentage across the board of all investments – making sure that it’s fair to all parties), minus administrative overhead. The more you put in, the more you earn out – provided of course, that the investments bear a return. For those investments not yet coming to fruition, and for campaigns that are not needing the liquidity for a few years, they get “shares” in the ownership stake that the government gets in the institutions that it invests in.

Yes, of course, aspects of this are an absolutely ludicrous idea. Yes, of course, we aren’t talking too much money, percentage wise to the overall bailout monies, maybe a few million dollars, or slightly more across all of Congress and the committees.

But can you think of a better way to get the campaigns personally invested in seeing that the oversight on the bailout is done right?

The Joy of the New

There is little in this life that measures up to the joy of the new – seeing and experiencing things for the very first time.

Except the joy of seeing that in others.

Our dog Winston, seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

The Change

I have written scant few politics posts throughout the years, mostly because I’m not as much of an ideologue when it comes to politics, as say, technology.

For most of my adult life, I have been republican-leaning. There was even a period of time in the mid-to-late 1990’s when I very, very wrongly thought that republicanism and protestant Christianity were intertwined – and ascribing to the latter meant that you had to be part of the former. It is still a systemic viewpoint that pervades today in many evangelical protestant churches – which is a whole other post for a whole other day. Needless to say, there’s a lot of people that seem to skip over some of the completely obvious meanings in words in a letter Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica that is included in what came to be called the New Testament, to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good;” in politics, in science, in relationships.

I still mostly vote republican. But I’m far more moderate across the board as I get older. I have a mix of viewpoints on every major issue that combined together don’t fit any political platform. And they certainly aren’t binary. Life is a lot of shades of gray. And shades of gray don’t fit into a sound bite.

I have been long disappointed with the leadership of both of our major national political parties. I guess fundamentally I have a deep and abiding belief in the power of the individual, and want very much to see a transparent meritocracy that sees no race, no color, no creed, no orientation, no belief system. It’s an ideal that doesn’t really exist. So I guess I picked the platform that matched me more, because the person really didn’t seem to make a difference.

That is, until now.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this blog into a political one. I’ve debated posting this at all for a few weeks. This will likely be my last words on the subject. And normally while blogs are partially ego-driven, and this one is no exception, deviating into politics for non-political blogs is a bit much. And who I vote for is really nobody’s business, nor should it be made anyone’s business.

But this election has become a little different.

My thoughts on all of this are deeper and more nuanced than anyone has the patience to read, and I to write – but I want to highlight a few reasons of how I’ve come to feel and think the way I do about this election.

Even though I am completely fed up with the management failures, the lack of fiscal discipline, the apparent disregard for the separation of powers, and a fear-fueled erosion of personal liberties of the current republican Presidential administration, I thought as the campaigns started I would have surely voted republican again if faced with a Hillary Clinton campaign for president.

Over time I came to respect Hillary a lot more than I ever thought I would have. But I still would struggle in voting for the continuation of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton hegemony.

While early on, I liked Obama’s tech policy, and as a technologist, I’d probably come close to voting for him on Network Neutrality alone – Network Neutrality doesn’t make a President. I thought he was a fantastic speaker, but all I knew about him was that he had a few years as a state senator, and almost none as a national senator. I was unsure if he had the experience that I thought he needed to be President.

Then came this segment on the Tim Russert show. And I knew then that I’d certainly vote for Obama out of all of the democratic party candidates I even registered democrat for the first time in my life, so I could cast that primary vote (in NC, only registered democrats can cast a vote in the democratic primary Update see correction in comments).

On March 18, 2008. After the height of a media snippet assault of clips of Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama delivered one of the best written, most eloquently delivered speeches I have ever heard. In an election cycle dependent on soundbites, it defied conventional wisdom – a 30+ minute speech on race in America – and highlighted a campaign – and a person – that was different – a change in how it conducted its business.

I completely understand cynicism. But you can’t walk away from that speech and not be one part chagrined, and one part inspired.

And that is what leaders do. They acknowledge the wrong. And they inspire those around them to make it right.

I later became one vote in many that showed Obama could do well in a state like North Carolina, and the NC primary became part of a historical shift in the primary race.

The story of course, doesn’t end there. I still worried a bit if Senator Obama was all oratorical style and no substance, still worried at times when I heard the Senator off-stump-speech. I still expected there to be a skeleton in the closet. Meanwhile, all I was hearing out of most of the republicans were questions about experience – and a marked repeated emphasis on Senator Obama’s middle name.

The former question about experience is fine – and should be asked.

The latter statements about his name, repeated at event after event made me madder and madder. That’s not my America. And that’s not my political party.

On August 16, 2008 – both candidates appeared in a forum with Rick Warren – a pastor of a California mega-church, answering the same questions. I’ve watched snippets of it, and have read the transcripts

And by far, the issue that struck the me the most was the question and answers about “evil” This issue is absolutely fundamental issue for me. You cannot ignore the evil in your own midst when you take it on elsewhere – and Senator Obama captured what I feel to be true, you have to confront wrong in all its forms, and you have to be extraordinarily careful to not perpetrate your own evil in the guise of good. I don’t know if Senator McCain’s sole focus on the evil posed by Islamic extremism was political expediency or myopia, but neither are what I want in a President. Our Commander-In-Chief is sworn to protect America from its enemies, but we cannot create the enemy within in a myopic, dogmatic pursuit to rid ourselves of those external to us.

I guess then I was leaning Obama, and as I learned more about his background, his role in the community – and the way he conducted his life. I came to lean that way even more – not so much for the platform, but for the person. Both candidates still had Vice Presidential candidates to select, conventions to run and debates to have. And they each came to form my final view – of each of the candidates for President.

• I feel that the selection of Governor Palin represents a complete failure of judgment on the part of Senator McCain. She is not a leader, not a national leader, and in these last several weeks see absolutely no indication the she ever would or could be. I could go into a litany of reasons. But I’ll focus on one: sure, the media is tough, I know that I’d struggle to have a coherent and concise answer in a series of questions from the professional media. But you betcha I’d try to answer the question, and more, I wouldn’t be afraid of “I don’t know” Blaming some kind of “gotcha media” for illustrating a person so devoid of the fundamental intellectual curiosity necessary to lead our nation that she has to cram so much on the answers from campaign aides that she displays the kind of “cramming recall” incoherence that she did with Katie Couric? That’s not leadership. I’ve heard her with the conservative talk show hosts – and while there was more coherence, there is no greater substance. For that reason and more, her selection was a bad choice. • That whole “suspend the campaign” stunt from Senator McCain? It’s either political grandstanding, or completely reactionary. I completely empathize with reactionary personalities. We are passionate, involved, go-to people for solving problems and getting answers and getting something done. The President needs those people on his or her staff. But the President cannot be that person. That was absurd. If it was political grandstanding, it was even more absurd. • We have many problems we face as a country. Massive debt. A recessionary slowdown like nothing we have seen, not since 1987 – not since the 1970’s, maybe not even since the depression. We have infrastructure challenges in a number of places. A health care mess that even I’ve written about before. We are at declared war – on two fronts. We the people are going to have to get ourselves out of the mess – which we are completely capable of doing – with the leadership that says “here’s the problem – now let’s get with the program and get it done” To make a few committee assignments with Bill Ayers a central point in your campaign with all these problems? Colin Powell said yesterday that it was “inappropriate” – I’m not as measured as General Powell – it’s beyond inappropriate, It is completely ridiculous topic to make it the central focus of your presidential campaign – and it’s completely unethical to play into the terrorism and war fears of the American people in doing so. It is politics, at it’s almost lowest form.

Notice I said “almost” – there’s something even lower and even more insidious. General Powell said it better than I could ever possibly say, and I’ve been searching for weeks for the words to express what he did in just a few minutes on a Sunday morning talk show:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

I am more than troubled. I am angry, and more than embarrassed by that. I never, ever want to be associated with any party of people that stoops to these levels. This is not my America.

And for Senator McCain to condone this, even partially, adds to the continued failures of judgment. I would not be able in good conscience to vote for a candidate and party doing this, not with this kind of judgment – even if Senator McCain wasn’t running against Senator Obama.

But it adds to it that he is running against Senator Obama. And through these last few weeks, the message of Barack Obama has never wavered, never faltered, it has time and again pointed to the problems that are set out before us, and the hope that we can work through them. His campaign alone speaks of “We The People”

To be American, with all our imperfections is to continually strive for the embodiment of the ideals upon which we declared our independence. That we hold dear the self-evident truth that all are created equal. That all deserve life, all deserve liberty, all deserve the chance the opportunity to pursue their happiness.

That is the American Promise.

For the first time in my adult life, I finally hear one party, and one candidate speaking these words. And for that reason, I’m voting for Barack Obama for President this election.

Work Wide Open

My boss, Kevin Gamble, has been actively brainstorming the concept of the Free Range Enterprise. It’s perhaps a new term to describe a known idea, and defining the term helps to set (perhaps even own) the discussion. Higher education is surprisingly rigid, particularly the closer you get to the areas that have been bureaucratized – it will be interesting to see where the discussion evolves.

There’s one aspect of it that I’ve been thinking about recently – Kevin calls it “radical transparency”.

I’m going to call it “Work Wide Open”

I’ve been in some form of IT my entire career, and as far as I can tell, there are few concepts that seem to scare IT more than “Work Wide Open.” Heck, I have been scared of it.

4 years ago, I asked the folks I worked with to blog our activity notes every week – wide open, to the world. I spent a lot of time debating it – mainly with myself – both for the tired old mantra of most IT organizations of “operational security” – but also out of the fear about exposing the tasks lists of what we do. An awful lot of people don’t understand what most IT organizations do – and there are people that understanding partially what we do and every one of them have an opinion on how we can be doing things better or how we can solve X with Y.

Opinions, well, everybody’s got them.

But the dirty little secret is that they really don’t care. Most of the people that we are all afraid of telling us how we could all do our jobs better aren’t going to be watching. And those that are watching, they actually don’t say much it turns out.

( And then when they do, it can be really useful actually, because contrary to our circling of the wagons in IT when those that know far less than we do raise questions – those questions actually have merit. The problems that others outside of IT will bring up aren’t often problems – but you can bet that there really is a problem, it’s just masquerading as something that isn’t. Try to answer them sometime, it’ll be eye-opening about what all you don’t really know and have been doing because of a bunch of false assumptions you made a long time ago and never questioned. )

So, extraordinarily long parenthetical aside, nobody really cares about the details of what you do (nobody outside your work team). So that means that the most important audience for being open is for you and by you – I mean you and your work team

You might think to yourself – in that case, why not just be open, but only with my work team?

That might be fine and all, and for most organizations it’s a big step up from where they were with not being open in the first place. But there’s two reasons that being open beyond the work team matters.

One, it helps to refocus what you write, and what you say. It lends itself to a bit more positivity. Sometimes it lends itself to being a little too generic (especially when something under that “security” banner is discussed) – but for the most part, being aware of a wider audience, real or imagined, helps you write in ways that are more clear, better defined, less likely to be “inside-only” information. This turns out to be enormously helpful – again for you particularly when you go back 6, 9, 12 months later to figure out what in the heck you were thinking when you implemented X in Y way to solve Z.

Second, somebody else is really going to read what you write in the open, Somebody like you, actually – in the same way you are looking for resources through feeds, search, forums, commits, source, etc. There are others doing the same. And like crazily phatic 140 character messages lead to greater personal understanding of colleagues, and help spread information – work wide open helps others understand what you do.

Four years later – I don’t know if the every week blog posts were successful or not. I know they are still done in that group today with my successor to the job asking the same of the people that work for him. And it’s useful, I still read them, and it has helped me on more than one occasion, seeing references to tools and solutions to problems I was having – or would soon have.

Others that went on to other jobs don’t do it, and I wish they did, they work on incredibly interesting projects that could be served well to have regular updates and highlights about what’s going on inside the project.

So, success or not, I don’t know. What I do know is those weekly status notes were a stepping stone. One small step in the direction of “work wide open”

Fast forward 4 years. New job, new boss, new work team. And a completely different way of working.

The same operational security fears are there – I won’t deny that having every last bit of your source code isn’t a bit disconcerting (in addition to being a developer, I’m also a system administrator – it’s part of my job to be a bit paranoid). And the same “is our work going to be questioned by those that don’t have a clue about what we do and how it works, but think that they do” fear still exists, in some forms.

But neither can overcome the incredible utility and usefulness, and maybe even flat out accountability of working in the open brings. And as a completely taxpayer-funded endeavor – really, isn’t our work supposed to be in the open? (okay, that’s a separate topic, but not by much)

My sourcecode (and that of my colleagues) is in the open. Our issue tracking and activity is in the open (all activity).

My contact information is public, as is my colleagues on our work team and my colleagues in the larger staff. Our meeting notes are public, both in the work team and within the larger staff.

Every edit and change in the staff wiki, public. Most of the documentation for the entire systems infrastructure, public.

On the perso-professional level, bookmarks, photos, silly phatic updates, and semi-serious phatic updates – all public – and that, plus a couple of blogs, get aggregated together in one public place, too

In addition to being a system administrator, I develop our identity/authentication/directory application – and that application tracks every login to every app, every edit in every app. All that activity is available, but it’s currently limited to viewing, closed down to only just over 8,000 of my Extension peers – but pretty soon, I’ll be coding in an option to make that public.

My work team does maintain a private mailing list – and doesn’t even archive the messages, there’s a place and time where some discussion needs to be frank, and private. But it’s open to our whole team, and I dare say that 90% or better of the emails that involve more than two or three people, go to our whole staff of 8, full time, temporary, part-time, etc. There are still a few systems-related things that aren’t in the open, particularly those that involve serial numbers, or cron processes that have embedded authentication tokens or passwords. But for the most part our work is completely open.

You know, one day, there will be some security issue I’m sure that comes from something we did in the open. But that’s one of those things that you deal with when it happens (and I quite imagine that I’ll do it quite publicly when it does). And I’m sure at some point there will be someone annoyed because we didn’t do their request, while we check in who-knows-how-many-changes for other requests. We’ll deal with that then too.

In the meantime, I can’t begin to tell you the benefits, how its brought our work team closer together, how every member of an 8 person team is as close as I’ve ever seen to being on the same page, aware of the team, and what they are doing as part of that team, and moving in the same direction – and doing so in a way that is in front of and interacting with peers in our system, at our University, and colleagues in other institutions. We are, I believe, extraordinarily efficient at what we do, I’ve rarely seen this many systems, and apps done by just 8 people, and the occasional contractor – and done in a way that keeps moving forward. We couldn’t do it if we weren’t open. There’s no excuse, particularly in a public-funded endeavor, to be anything different.

We don’t just value and talk transparency, we are transparent. We live it and breathe it. We are work wide open, taking a road less traveled by.

And it’s making all the difference.

Filter Failure

I started following Thomas Vander Wal’s FriendFeed a week or so ago, and noticed that he had linked to a presentation from Clay Shirky at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York from back in September (I think, I just did a cursory Google search to try and date the presentation)

The title caught my eye, because I’m just now emerging from what feels like weeks on end of my own coding. I’m bridging our “employee directory” (and identity/authentication) tool to our list service, and in the process re-creating a lot of the same kinds of community aggregation of activity that’s become de rigueur. It’s perhaps one part reinvention of the wheel and one part shaping that wheel for our particular wagon.

So, I’ve been thinking about Activity Lists, and all the information we are tracking and how much it is, and what I can do to mitigate what I know will be coming with the same old lament, time and again about “information overload” from a lot of the faculty I come in contact with in my job. How can I help ease that? Or present the information in more manageable chunks?

It’s the opening preamble to to Clay’s talk. Which goes on for a bit, but it’s the first time in recent memory that I actually stayed glued to the screen for 20 minutes. And that’s saying a lot. ( I don’t typically have the patience to sit through 20 minutes of anything, much less a tech talk – my wife even noticed because she was in the same room while I listened to it all). But maybe this information is different, and a talk on Information, privacy, and colliding worlds in higher ed. can hold me for 20 minutes.

(Although, Clay uses “right” like most of us use “um” – and honestly, it got distracting as hell later in the talk, but um, er, I digress.)

While I disagree with Shirky somewhat that the problem/issue of privacy controls is a new one – I was pretty fascinated with the the summary statement of the presentation – information overload really isn’t a condition – it’s just a fact that we we are swimming in information – and have been for quite some time, since Gutenberg really. And that the change in publisher-mediated filtering that has happened with the advent of the Internet requires us to rethink the problem – not of taming information, but how to implement filters. And when we complain – it’s not the information, it’s our filters.

This hit home for me recently – back in September actually – when I complained in Twitter about reaching an information saturation point

(and it was pretty funny that Kevin bookmarked a bunch of dents and a post after that about Information Overload being a farce.

(editor’s note – which is really weird because I’m the editor – but I’m leaving my original sentence above even after fact-checking myself, because it’s both telling AND funny. Kevin bookmarked an article about it being a “cop-out” – which I never read – and only in going to look for Kevin’s quote did I see the article is about the same Clay Shirky presentation I’m commenting on now – It’s a small, incestual internet after all, it’s a small… farce, cop-out, close enough)

I adore information. I eat live and breath information. I’m the quintessential modern era “knowledge worker” – taking it in and sending it along as fast as I can. My tolerance for multiple streams is pretty high. But it was a complete cop-out to complain about saturation.

I wasn’t saturated, my filters failed. I was getting the same exact stuff from twitter, friend feed,, etc. And I was having a devil of a time adapting to the duplicates. (somewhere in the back of my mind is the mantra of “I see everything twice.” from Catch-22).

I had to adjust. And that’s the theme – and the challenge. Putting a cork in information flow, ever since Gutenberg, has been useless. You can’t control it. We’ve never been able to control it, but we spent 500 years pretending we could and building Academies and Bureaucracies to do it. And the internet came along and created a whole new perceived set of problems that some in the Academy (and even more in the Corporates) are trying to figure out how to control – trying different hardware and software games to still control publication.

Instead of rethinking the problem.

My personal example highlighted this for me – it wasn’t about too much information, it was about personal workflow. I set myself up for my own problem with the duplicates. And solving it was about reorganizing how I got at the information.

Back to my own apps – it’s not that I’m collecting too much, or displaying too much (maybe the defaults can be tweaked) – but more in that the freedoms to personally filter what’s there is key.

I don’t have any more answers than Clay postulated in his talk. And I’m not really adding anything with this post other than my own Eureka! moment that I’m going to be rethinking the problem in terms of filters (and personal filters) rather than publication control. Because I definitely think he’s on to at least a glimpse of what the real issue is.

It’s not the bits, it’s how you personally arrange them into bytes (and enable others to do the same).

Go ahead, splain it, I will wait

So the Foo Fighters are a little annoyed at John McCain for using their song at rallies (and a bunch of other artists are annoyed too).

Forget the Republican/Democrat part of this for a moment – that’s a whole other post (that likely I won’t write) – I really don’t care about that.

What I’d really like to know though – is that the ASCAP guild – part of the Music Labels Thug and Liars (aside, is “Music Labels” and “Thugs and Liars” redundant? – discuss) – well they seem to call such music playing as a public performance

And as a “public performance” – permission and/or licensing are required.

So I’d like to know why the labels – through ASCAP aren’t filing lawsuits against the McCain campaign.

You know, on behalf of, and for the artists?