Apple provides links to aid agencies
Apple's home page is devoted to providing useful links to agencies aiding the victims of the Asian tsunami.
U.S. accused of undermining the U.N. in providing tsunami aid
The U.S. is coordinating aid for the tsunami victims with three other nations: Japan, India and Australia. This has led to criticism from the U.N., claiming the U.S. is trying to undermine their efforts -- only they should be allowed to coordinate aid for the victims, their spokeswoman has said to BBC 4 in England.
United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.
... former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.
She said the US was “very bad at coordinating with anyone” and India had its own problems to deal with.
“I don’t know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system,” she added.
Given the U.N.'s success in the food-for-oil in which they "lost" over $20 billion in aid to starving Iraqis or the effort to bring aid in Rwanda, it is not entirely unreasonable that some larger countries might consider providing aid directly when faced with a tragedy of global proportions having extreme time constraints.
The U.N. is concerned on two grounds, they say. The first is practical: "the [four] coalition countries [do] not have good records in responding to international disastors," Ms. Short said. The second is moral, according to Ms. Short:
It [the U.N.] is the only body that has the moral authority.
UPDATE: Others were curious about the U.N. claiming sole moral authority to act when, in fact, there appeared to be inaction on the part of the most senior officials there, including Kofi Annan, who stayed on his skiing vacation in Wyoming. Here is a question posed to him at his press conference when he returned to New York:
Mr. Secretary, picking up on Richard's question, I think a lot of people are asking exactly why you waited three days on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, before you decided to fly back to New York in the face of this extraordinary crisis. Could you give us a full explanation of your thinking on that? Secondly, what kind of signal does that 72-hour delay send to the nations to which you are now appealing for greater help?
His response was that "we live in a world where you can operate from wherever you are."
On-the-ground blogging from tsunami areas
Here is direct reporting from those areas of India impacted by the tsunami. It provides a view not captured by satellite images, and it is painful.
A picture of hell, and no kerosene
It’s five kilometres of hell, and it’s right here at Nagapattinum.
Kaviarsi studies – make that studied – in the sixth standard. Her schoolbooks lie a short distance away, and besides them lies a doll. The girl herself lies on a makeshift pyre on what used to be her home, her face totally blackened, her neck twisted upwards, the skin peeling off her legs like torn stockings. There is a large empty container of Pepsi lying just besides her, and four other bodies. And besides the pyre, towards the sunset, are five long kilometers of slushy wasteland strewn with dead bodies.
He reports from several different areas of devastation. [via Glenn Reynolds]
Rickover as role model
Admiral Hyman Rickover was born just into the 20th century in a part of Russia that is now Poland. His father, a tailor, brought the family to the U.S. in 1906. Hyman learned English in school, worked full-time through high school, got a recommendation to the U.S. Naval Academy from which he graduated and later he earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University.
While in the Navy, he specialized in submarines and developed the design for the first nuclear submarine. In addition, it was primarily he who conceived of the unique strategic role submarines now play in national defense: they are essentially little pieces of the U.S., always moving, virtually invulnerable to attack and always able to deliver a response to any assault.
It was in the Navy of the early part of the 1900's that Rickover realized he was not likely to make Admiral because he was Jewish -- there had never been a Jewish admiral and there was no mentor system in place that made it look like Rickover would make it in his lifetime. But that was only the case for the Navy as it existed then -- if the Navy were to add another dimension of service that was new and for which there was no social infrastructure of gatekeepers protecting the top spots, Rickover would have a chance.
Rickover is widely recognized as the "father of the nuclear navy." He established its structure; he placed the headquarters of development and operations in ... Idaho. He wanted a place where the traditional Navy brass and members of Congress were unlikely to "drop by" -- Virginia, right by the ocean, was an obviously bad spot because existing Navy officers would take an interest; Idaho Falls, however, which had no direct airline connections to anything outside Idaho and Utah, was perfect.
And Rickover made admiral in part by creating a new dimension of naval doctrine, a new way to think and operate with naval forces, and because it was new and positions were outside the existing bureaucracy, those outside bureaucratic favor could more easily rise to positions of real influence.
There is something of a parallel in the rise of alternative, citizen journalism. There are many who are gifted observers and analysts of current events and who are articulate in expressing their insights. But because of the vagaries of life, they didn't get the right credentials or make the right social connections or gather the right experience and the result was that the journalist bureaucracy that is a key part of allocating positions within mainstream journalism provided them with no outlet for their work.
To reach positions of influence, they had to create a new dimension to the doctrine of journalism and they had to have the technology to make that dimension a reality. In much the same way that Rickover saw a strategic role for submarines that hadn't been seen before and at the same time was able to harness the technology to put that doctrine into practice (a single nuclear sub could stay under for six months or more at a time with an absolute minimum of communication and could carry a delivery payload that was truly strategic in magnitude), these citizen journalists conceived of a role for themselves that is meaningful within journalism and they have been able to harness a technology that makes that role a reality.
The combination of ability, ambition, technology and a new strategic concept made the nuclear navy not just a one-generation gambit for Rickover to make admiral but a reshaping force for the key role the navy plays in defense. Likewise, it may be that this same combination in the field of journalism will make what started off as daily diaries supported by software developed by a young couple in their apartment (Six Apart) the Idaho Falls of journalism -- remote enough from the centers of powers that the truly big players took little interest and set aside no time to "drop by" to see what was developing. And by the time they did direct their interest to this new dimension of journalism -- populated by people "in their pajamas," "in the bathroom," and various other non-traditional types -- it had legs, it could stand on its own and it had its own voice in journalism. And, more importantly, a strategic vision that made it something more than an a side route into traditional journalistic positions -- it was creating a new dimension in the journalism doctrine.
Matt Drudge's paid assistant, Andrew Breitbart, recently said to a group of journalists that because traditional journalism made no room for people like Drudge, they were forced to create their own route. Whether it is in every way better or worse than existing journalism isn't so much the point here; rather, the fact that this form of citizen journalism is now recognized by Time Magazine, that it is the target of impassioned assaults from enfranchised journalists at major newspapers, that it is implicated in the bringing down of a "big three" network news anchor -- this would be enough to convince Rickover that it was part of something strategic, not merely tactical, and could have not only staying power but, eventually, genuinely significant influence.
Rickover was famous for saying that "good ideas and innovations must be driven into existence by courageous patience." After the exhilarating ride of new ideas coupled with technological innovation, patience can be the hardest part. Rickover is again the role model -- keep building the base in Idaho Falls until your strategic worth cannot be denied. And when Rickover was ultimately invited into the select circle of full admirals in the Navy, he still kept his base in Idaho. That was actually a contributor to the strategic value of the nuclear navy.
That may be worth keeping in mind when ABC recognizes bloggers as it's "people of the year" and devotes a video to "the power of the blog" and capitalizes "blog." It's not quite like making admiral, but it is clearly a promotion from "guys in pajamas."
New Year's resolutions
It is often painfully obvious what one's resolutions for the new year should be. But if you are having some trouble thinking of "good ones," here is a list of sites with the resolutions that others are making for the new year.
A friend recently commented that he isn't too worried about the many troubles in the world because just about everyone he meets has a "gifted" child who is in some special, advanced type of schooling and if we can just hold on long enough for these gifted kids to hit working age, we'll be fine -- they will know what to do. This set of resolutions will be a good "fall back position:" if the kids stay in school longer than expected, even a small proportion of these resolutions -- if kept -- should provide all the bridge we need until they are available.
The BitTorrent story
If you enjoyed the graphing calculator story, you'll enjoy this story about Bram Cohen and the technology he developed, which was eventually called BitTorrent. The two stories have, among other things, this aspect in common: a person with a great desire to create something both useful and elegant, a person whose work was driven by their own person technical standards not work demands, and a person repeatedly frustrated by an employer who was not able to channel this drive and technical competence into real product development.
Like many geeks in the '90s, Cohen coded for a parade of dotcoms that went bust without a product ever seeing daylight. He decided his next project would be something he wrote for himself in his own way, and gave away free. "You get so tired of having your work die," he says. "I just wanted to make something that people would actually use."
Cohen was always interested in file-sharing. His last job was with MojoNation, a project based in Mountain View, California, that tried to create a "distributed data haven." A MojoNation user who wanted to keep a file safe from prying eyes could break it into chunks, encrypt the pieces, and store them on the millions of computers belonging to people who, theoretically, would be running the software worldwide. Too complicated for easy use, it expired like the other startups Cohen was part of. But it gave him an idea: Breaking a big file into tiny pieces might be a terrific way to swap it online.
One of the most innovative and useful features of the BitTorrent approach was the "virtuous cycle" it creates in file downloads:
Paradoxically, BitTorrent's architecture means that the more popular the file is the faster it downloads - because more people are pitching in. Better yet, it's a virtuous cycle. Users download and share at the same time; as soon as someone receives even a single piece of Fokkers, his computer immediately begins offering it to others. The more files you're willing to share, the faster any individual torrent downloads to your computer. This prevents people from leeching, a classic P2P problem in which too many people download files and refuse to upload, creating a drain on the system. "Give and ye shall receive" became Cohen's motto, which he printed on T-shirts and sold to supporters.
Read the whole article to get an interesting insight into file sharing, new product development and the role of the "creative" people in Hollywood.
Satellite photos of tsunami sites
Here is a collection of satellite images of the tsunami sites. These photos provide before and after images of the shoreline, showing how far the waves traveled inland.
2004: The Quiz version
Test your knowledge of 2004 by taking this quiz. Scoring is arbitrary, but typically people give themselves a lot of points for answers they remember (important things) and deduct few, if any, points for answers they don't know (unimportant items). There is an international quiz, too.
The trend in internet use
There are no surprises in the direction, but the numbers are quite interesting. The New York Times reports on a recent survey of how people are using their time:
The average Internet user in the United States spends three hours a day online, with much of that time devoted to work and more than half of it to communications, according to a survey conducted by a group of political scientists.
The survey found that use of the Internet has displaced television watching and a range of other activities. Internet users watch television for one hour and 42 minutes a day, compared with the national average of two hours, said Norman H. Nie, director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, a research group that has been exploring the social consequences of the Internet.
A Hugh Hewitt reader writes:
"... the real news of the piece is found by a longitudinal comparison of the two studies, done five years apart. In the previous study , around 4% of respondents used the internet for 3 or more hours a day. In the current survey , at a minimum, 31% of respondents were online for 3 or more hours a day. This is a 50% annual rate of growth of heavy internet users over the last five years! (In actuality, the total of heavy internet users is probably even higher than that, since to be considered an "internet user" for the purposes of the current survey, you had to answer "yes" to having used the internet the day prior to being surveyed.)....Heavy internet users have been doubling every two years of late. The use of the internet as a main political campaign news source has doubled over the last five years, and this growth rate has been weighted down by virtual non-usage of the internet by people over 65 for political news. Therefore, the growth rate of people using the internet for input into political decision-making will increase over the next election cycles, as the internet becomes, in effect, interactive TV and more, for the majority of Americans.
It's little wonder that institutions are establishing their presence on the internet in a more human and interactive way -- via blogs.