Friday, April 24, 2009

Sharing is Better

Good magazine, and one of their editors Eric Steuer, did a nice job reworking my words into an article on the topic of sharing and squeezing excess capacity out of every resource. Short and to the point. One of my favorite photos.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

My mom just totalled her car

I just got a phone call that my 84 year old mother had a car accident: early afternoon, traveling about 35 mph on a divided two-lane road, lined with retail and parking in a commercial district, about a half a mile from her house. She dozed off after exersize and a big lunch, wrapped the car around the telephone pole that crushed the car, narrowly missing her head.

Car totaled. She is fine and no one was hurt.

An excellent wake up call for her. And for her family. And why not for the nation? As long as we invest heavily and almost exclusively in a car-dependent environment, with no good alternatives for safe walking, biking, shopping, or quality transit, we will continue to see such accidents across America, and many without the happy ending.

As long as we continue to believe that the status quo is just fine, we will continue to have seniors (and juniors, and the poor, and the wise, and the economical, and the impaired) without options.

And for the record, her car gets 40 mpg. Fuel efficiency isn’t going to solve this problem.

What does it take to wake us up?

See 5/27/09 Mom update

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Radio Spectrum & the Internet Story made simple

Here is a brilliantly written article, that explains in clear language using powerful metaphors, exactly what makes the internet, openness, and wireless communications so beautiful, so powerful, and so filled with potential. If you are remotely interested in these topics, you should read it – just a couple of pages published in Salon.

Dare I give some highlights? giving you an out from reading the whole piece? They are better in context:

“Here Reed is dogmatically undogmatic: "Attempting to decide what is the best architecture before using it always fails. Always.”…If you want to maximize the utility of a network,… you should move as many services as feasible out of the network itself.”
This is the opportunity we have before us in thinking about how we build out the smart grid, and road user fees. Both huge and ubiquitous wireless networks that will roll out across the US over the next decade.
“Reed and his colleagues argued, keep the network unoptimized for specific services so that it's optimized for enabling innovation by the network's users (the "ends").
That deep architectural principle is at the core of the Internet's value: Anyone with a good idea can implement a service and offer it over the network instead of having to propose it to the "owners" of the network and waiting for them to implement it. If the phone network were like the Internet, we wouldn't have had to wait 10 years to get caller I.D.; it would have been put together in one morning, implemented in the afternoon, and braced for competitive offerings by dinnertime.”
Ok, did I neglect to mention that this article is 6 years old? And that it was written by two friends of mine? No matter. It is a must read. Here is the link again. Hey, I only read it the first time myself this morning.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What’s “Open” Got to Do with It?

In early March, I happened to be in Washington meeting with Ed Markey. It turns out that the incredibly important words that required the $6.6 billion in smart grid demonstration projects to use "open standards and internet protocol" was his amendment! These words were modified in the final Economic Recovery Act by industry lobbyists to include "where available and appropriate."

I was in Markey’s office to explain to him why these same words should be applied to wireless demonstration projects in the transportation sector, in health care digitization efforts, and likely in education, although I don’t know. Markey was excited by my interest, and wondered if I could explain to the layperson why open standards mattered.

A week and a half later, I bumped into a state Secretary of Energy – one of the very people who would get to spend the smart grid demonstration project money. This person didn’t understand the implications of “open standards” and asked me to explain it. Over the course of the last month, I’ve met with high level officials in transportation, energy, and environment positions from several states, none of whom understood the value of openness.

We are about to spend billions and billions of taxpayer dollars on technology infrastructure and many of those advising precisely what to buy have every incentive to say that closed proprietary systems, networks, devices are the best way to go. How does this missed opportunity make you feel?

A friend blogged on this subject and I loved his headline:
Using Public Dollars to Build Proprietary Systems?

Proprietary systems have their own secret languages and secret rules. You can play only if you are invited in (by buying the ratified stuff) and you can only play the games agreed upon (your ideas for new games or new ways to play the old games are unwelcome, unheard, and impossible to incorporate). Examples of closed proprietary systems abound, but a nice irritating example would be how you have to throw away your current cell phone if you want to change carriers.

Open standards mean that different people/companies/devices could, if they wanted to, find common ground.

Here, excerpted from a piece David Reed wrote for The MIT Communications Futures Program Principal Investigator Blog is a nice description of how the internet -- which is an open standard -- works:

“The Internet is a set of agreements among members (who happen to control small, medium, and large networks). The agreement required members to carry each others’ packets, delivering them via best efforts to the hosts at the edge of the network—your laptop, Google’s server…each member of the Internet who contributed to the mutual enterprise gained connectivity disproportionate to the member’s contribution.”

As David puts it, "The Internet is not a technology, but a set of interoperable standards."

Open standards give the ability to evolve over time.

Sure, proprietary systems can evolve, the speed depending entirely on competitive pressures. Most government contracts come with nice long contracts: three, five, ten, and even 99 year terms! Why bother to innovate during the first seven years of a ten-year contract? Steve Crocker, one of the Internet’s founding fathers, wrote a really wonderful piece for the New York Times that describes how the Internet’s open standards were able to evolve over time. As he told me “We had no idea when we started [forty years ago] that this is where we’d end up.” Of course, who among us can predict the future?

Another friend offered a simple test: “If you think this is the final and best version, buy the closed proprietary system. If you think it will continue to evolve over time, go open.”

Open standards invite and encourage participation

From a Steve Crocker email “Open standards become particularly important when they enable new products and services to be built on top of existing ones. Openness is not just about enabling others to build the same products and services and compete directly. It’s also about enabling huge vistas of new inventions that brings the enormous expansion and payoff from new technologies.”

I'll close with Steve's penultimate paragraph from the NYT:
“As we rebuild our economy, I do hope we keep in mind the value of openness, especially in industries that have rarely had it. Whether it’s in health care reform or energy innovation -- [OR smart transportation adds Robin] -- the largest payoffs will come not from what the stimulus package pays for directly, but from the huge vistas we open up for others to explore.”

Some interesting links about open standards not referenced in the above:
In health care and in promoting multimodal transportation.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Anatomy of Sharing podcast

Here is the podcast interview that went with my talk, the "Anatomy of Sharing," for the Association of College and Research Librarians. Some of this is library/education-specific, but it also covers all the ideas that surround collaborative production, collaborative consumption, and cooperative capitalism that I've blogged about here. How do we identify excess capacity? what do we do with it? what are the opportunities?

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Openness if we want Intermodal

Just blogged on this topic for the National Journal. Basically, if we want to be able to go between feet, bikes, carsharing, bus, transit, rail, private parking (and for freight to be similarly multi-modal), we need to use open platforms, open devices, and open up networks paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Type rest of the post here

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Climate Code Red? Use the Recession

George Bush appeared to have won his re-election in 2004 on the back of American’s fear of terrorist attacks, reinforced by periodic security alerts from the Whitehouse: Code Orange! Code Red!

Pre-November 2008 elections, I often wished that Democrats (or even Republicans) could manufacture similar pseudo events to evoke that same primal fear but in service of climate change. What would make Americans take the threat seriously? Make them act with the urgency and commitment the situation requires? Wouldn’t it be great if a big chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf snapped off unexpectedly? Giving everyone a good scare but not threatening any lives?

Basically, I drew a blank. I couldn’t think up anything that matched a “Code Red” – evoking fear and delivering action but without any long-term consequences.

But the current r(d)ec(pr)ession just might do the trick.
Yes, there will be (there already is) some real collateral suffering. But it just might be that this real short-term suffering gives us a chance to avert long-term irreversible planetary changes that results in long-term human suffering.

This recession has a three-fold potential:

• Reduced economic activity means reduced energy consumption and reduced emissions. It just might be that worldwide CO2 emissions don’t increase this year. [If deforestation pressures in developing countries aren’t accelerated by the lack of alternative sources of income.]

• Government (and business) economic restructuring and reinvestment presents us with the opportunity to create more sustainable systems with each new investment and new rule set.

• People’s values and behaviors are likely to profoundly change on the back of these very difficult economic times.

After the Great Depression (does that get capitalized?), American’s attitudes changed in fundamental ways that lasted for at least a generation. People who felt the painful reality of those years, or maybe just watched others feel the pain, had a deeply seeded attitude change about life. They tended to use things up, store things that might have a useful life some time in the future, expect rainy days and save for them, keep jobs they didn’t like just in case, and value community and friendship over consumption status symbols.

My mother was one of those people (and not my father, so this idea isn’t universal). And the house I live in now -- that sheltered one family between 1902 and 1987 when we bought it – definitely held people with those sensibilities. Bags of old men’s shirts, useful one day as rags, but with the buttons removed and stored elsewhere, filled one corner of the basement. “Perfectly good” wallpaper rolls, from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, were stashed under a work bench. Tin cans with nails, screws, bits of rope, old copper mesh (we’ve made good use of that!) were shelved between the studs.

So, this crisis provides us with an unexpected opportunity to move to a more sustainable and low GHG world economy. Will we make good use of it?

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