Perceptions of Technology

Wow. Just go read the article now. It’s a a good learning opportunity for those of us who assume that most people have a reasonable working knowledge of technology.

An excerpt, in case that link rots:

the couple convinced numerous people that Stacey Finley was a CIA agent and with her contacts she could schedule a medical scan of the victims’ bodies by satellite imaging that would detect any hidden medical problems.

The Finley’s convinced their victims that, if any medical problems were found, secret agents would administer medicine to them as they slept in exchange for payment

Could it hurt to teach kids basic physics in the 10+ years we have them captive in government schools? Apparently enough people think the answer is, ‘yes’.

Prius or Corolla?

Somebody on the Cartalk forum asked about hidden surprises/costs for the Prius. I wondered where the break-even point was on gas, since everybody is “buying a hybrid because gas is so high”.

Here’s where my research led me: 280,613 miles.

This is using a worst-case difference for the Prius, in this case EPA Highway, and price numbers from Edmunds.

My rusty high-school algebra (work below), assumes comparable maintenance costs and $3/gal gasoline. If common battery worries pan out, score down the Prius. If WWIII breaks out, score down the Corolla. If either car makes it to 280K, call Guinness!

I picked the top Corolla to be pretty close in options, but if you want to save more, you can. A really fair comparison would add ABS to the Corolla, so somebody please price that and re-run the numbers. Similarly, an all-in-town (Taxi-service) calculation would be better for the Prius, somebody can run those numbers too.

So, don’t buy the Prius to save money. You’ll definitely save on gas consumption. Whether the Prius has a total carbon load lower than the Corolla is a matter of some debate, given the additional electronics involved, and the high cost of nickel mining.

And, obviously, I’m quite used to high school algebra teachers bleeding all over my work, so have at it, in the name of science.

Dartmouth: A Way Forward

I previously wrote some thoughts on the Trustees Decision of 2007, which for those who haven’t read them, it basically boils down to “it sucks, but it won’t last.” But I didn’t specify any mechanisms by which change would be effected.

Since I wrote last I’ve done some more reading on the roles of the Trustees, the Charter, the Alumni Constitution, and who has power and authority over what. I doubt any lawsuits are going to change the current situation – I think the AoA has been mortally wounded. “I’m not Dead Yet!” is only worth something until the undertaker’s club meets its target, but go ahead and prove me wrong on these points, I want to be wrong.

The debate is certainly rancorous and many of the discussion boards have descended into acrimonious anonymous postings, debasing the reputation of all Alumni. I suspect this is a bit of ridicule on the part of those defeated in recent elections and a feeling of helplessness, betrayal even, by those on the other side. Emotions run high and it serves none well.

So, this is here to declare the situation not helpless. Now I do believe it is futile for anonymous posters to whine, “fine, I’m not sending my yearly contribution” online, but the power of the Alumni is in those contributions, both large and small. When the question is asked, “what right do Alumni think they have to have a say in how the College is run?” the answer is, “the College couldn’t run without their support.” I can’t exactly say to what degree that’s true – if somebody can tease apart the annual report and find that number, please post a comment.

We can also figure out what percentage of the alumni voted for the ‘insurgent’ candidates but I’m not sure anybody on the outside can tell what percentage of giving that group represents. This would be very handy to know.

So, what choice do they have? Stop giving to the College they love and thus weaken it? Give anyway, and just accept that the Alumni shall have no real control over the College’s destiny? No, as I wrote earlier, the Alumni derive power not just through their contributions (which isn’t remarkably different today than in the past), but through their ability to organize (that’s what’s new and deeply troubling to the status quo). So, this needs to be applied to the cynical version of the Golden Rule.

Alumni Investment Corporation. As of this writing the term has no hits on Google. Maybe it exists by another name – somebody educate me, I am not expert in the ways of educational fundraising, though I’ve never heard of this idea before. But here’s the basic idea: form an investment vehicle for like-minded Alumni to donate funds into in lieu of making donations directly to the College. The corporation would have to have a clear set of principles, by-laws, etc. so contributors know where their money is going. Being an investment vehicle, the investors would be issued shares and thus be able to pull their money out should the governance of the fund go astray. Changes to the fund’s policies would be done though a shareholder vote (stop me if you’ve heard this before) and there’d be nothing to stop competing funds, should they become necessary (though a proliferation of funds would incur weakness to each). The fund would need to be well-managed, so that it grows safely over time, and it would probably have to do the same kinds of fundraising (or smarter) that the College does. It would disperse funds to the College on its own terms, with strings attached. If the College were uncooperative, the fund would instead grow, until such time as the College were willing to accept the money.

There isn’t much here that’s new – there are mutual funds that organize to effect social change – the twist here is a select set of potential contributors and a very specific set of potential beneficiaries. The fund would have to be properly organized to garner a charity status so it would be as attractive a donation target under our Federal Income Tax regime. Obviously, profits from shareholder withdrawals would be taxable.

This arrangement leverages the two powers the Alumni really have and largely ignores the one that has been or can be abrogated from it. It allows the disaffected Alumni to continue to donate to the College, but in a manner they find morally acceptable and fiscally prudent.

Now, I have no idea how to organize this nor the time or expertise to manage it (I’m busy trying to get a startup funded), so somebody take the ball and run with it. I might even donate.

Emergence At Dartmouth

Things change.

Sometimes there’s something you can do do stop it.

And sometimes there’s not, but you try anyway.

On Saturday, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees enacted changes to the Dartmouth Constitution, last modified over a century ago, to change the balance of power from 50/50 alumni-voted/administration-appointed to a 33/66 split, in favor of the administration. They fancy to implement a model closer to Harvard’s, which isn’t all that well regarded by folks who aren’t in the habit of appointing trustees. Much more info on what happened and why can be found at Dartblog.

The strategy isn’t even all that creative – Roosevelt tried this in 1939 when the Supreme Court wasn’t voting the way he expected it should, and it’s seen as the most egregious political blunder of his Presidency (quite the curious model to emulate). Just as that move enraged the other three branches of government, this has sparked talk about getting big name law firms involved in the process. It’s even brought ridicule from the non-academic intellectuals – the Wall Street Journal gave the idea a good dressing down. A shame, but this will passs.

What won’t pass is the surge in Alumni participation in governance in the College, and that’s why this article appears on my blog. It’s about the Internet.

10 years ago, Dartmouth offered its alumni (n.b.: this blog is in English, not Latin) a lifetime e-mail account. Then it added some alumni services websites, access to the Library, online voting, social networking, etc. The idea was to keep the Alumni closer to the College. And guess what? It worked.

But rather than just fondly fire up BlitzMail and think, “boy, I think I’ll send those guys $100 today,” they also thought, “where’s that money going … what are these guys up to?” And so they checked in and the majority didn’t like what they saw.

So, they organized websites, campaigns, analysis sites, and decided to set out to change things, in the liberal democratic fashion set out for them in the Constitution.

Now, these alumni didn’t share the same values and plans that the incumbents shared, and they were batting a thousand. The Trustees weren’t used to the Alumni exercising their rights as laid forth in the Constitution. So “something had to be done”. And it was. But it won’t last.

You see, the Internet isn’t going away. The power of Alumni to communicate and collaborate is only going to get stronger over time. They can look in whenever they want, even if they can’t get up to Hanover, or to the U.S., even.

Just as Linux (the poster-boy for all of Open Source Software) appeared just as soon as there was an Internet to support its development, Alumni Governance will come to be seen as an emergent property of Alumni linked together with the ability to easily cooperate. It’s no mystery that all of this happened just as soon as it was feasible – what’s mysterious is that some think they can hold back the sea.

Polly Dog – 1996-2007

Sad news, friends – Polly had to be put down this morning. She’s been battling sudden-onset kidney disease for about six weeks and despite her best struggle it got the better of her. Until yesterday, she was still fighting through it and always had a bit of energy to chase a squirrel, run after a ball, or bark at Evil. She oversaw Emma’s birthday party last week and was retrieving sticks in Mascoma Lake just before that, but yesterday lost the use of her legs and she and I stayed up last night with her labored breathing which eventually turned into continuous seizures. She died just before 8 o’clock this morning with her whole family comforting her. Her ashes will be spread on our property at her favorite resting place.

She was a magnificent beast and the best friend a man could have. While we had planned to have several more years with her, we greatly value all the time we were honored to call her part of our family. She will be greatly missed.

Rest in peace, P-dog.

5-year old Hero

Rayshun McDowell, a hero and 5-year-old boy, protected six other children outside his parents’ home from a rabid fox. He

“grabbed a rabid fox by the neck and pinned it to the ground during a family cookout, protecting six other children before his stepfather could step in.

“I wanted to protect my little brother,” said Rayshun, who battled the animal in the front yard of his home Sunday in Kingstown, a town about 50 miles west of Charlotte.

The fox bit Rayshun in the leg, but the 61-pound-boy held the animal down. Health officials later identified the fox as rabid.”

Rayshun’s parents, Shinda Linder and Ryan Thompson, are to be commended for raising such a brave child. Sam Lockridge, a county health official, advised other children to not be so brave. It’s a shame when a society can’t celebrate its heros out of some nebulous fear of litigation.

Emma’s going to be four tomorrow. I’ve tried to teach her bravery, sacrifice, and courage, but even though she fancies herself as a Wonder Woman-in-training, I’m not quite sure I’ve done as good as job as Rayshun’s parents. Hopefully I’ll teach her to shoot better than the family’s neighbor.

Let Freedom Ring

The following towns in NH don’t feel the need to take away the rights of their citizenry to send off fireworks for Independence Day. If you’re going to be going somewhere to watch town-sponsored fireworks, head to one of those where the people still know why we’re launching them in the first place (and support their local economy while you’re there).


Source: NH Dept of Fire Safety.

Do I feel Bad(?)

I enjoyed the blog of Robert Lindeman (Dr. Flea) ever since doing a web search for why I couldn’t use Neosporin to clear up a case of conjunctivitis that came home from daycare (answer: you can).

In fact, I found both the above mentioned page and a link to the Dr. Flea Blog during my Google session. The Doctor, blogging anonymously, had a great blog, with a mix of medical stories, advice, humor, whining (hey, it’s a blog) and great writing. He won a Webby for Best Medical Blog recently.

I read some of the past blog entries as I had a chance, and it became very clear to me, with some additional Google searches that Flea and Dr. Lindeman were the same guy. That’s fine, I’m typically pretty good about extracting information from Google searches and figured he’s putting up there what he felt was appropriate for himself.

There was clearly some material that he could never have talked about nonymously (it’s a word now, dammit) – current fights he was having with medical establishment types, fights with ER docs and dressings-down of the same, his jingoistic support for circumcision, etc.

Over the past few months, he started talking about a malpractice case in which he was involved, and showing a bit of stress in the way he talked about the opposing council. I didn’t think it to be highly mature, but, hey, it’s a blog, that’s cool, dude.

I Googled about and found that the Mass. courts have almost nothing online, so I couldn’t find much out about what was going on, but I put in a Google News Alert for ‘lindeman malpractice’ just to see if anything came up.

Well, a couple days ago it did. Somehow, the opposing council found out about his blog and though she apparently didn’t have a great case, shoved it in his face, and presumably intended to show the jury some of the things he said mocking the jurors. They settled the case next day. He deleted his blog immediately from BlogSpot. Worst of all, he’ll never get a chance to prove in court that it wasn’t his fault (if it wasn’t).

So, why would I feel bad? As he added a few stories here and there with more and more personal details I was really tempted to send him a mail saying, “hey, dude, these n stories are giving away too much of your personal info – you should take them down until the trial is over.” I didn’t send the mail. I even started to send one one time and something came up and I didn’t compile the list of URL’s. It wasn’t in my face (it might still be in my Drafts folder) so I didn’t complete it.

If I had sent the mail, would it have made any difference? Would he have listened? Would it have made a difference in a world with Google cache? Would the lawyer not have been smart enough to figure out the Google cache? Should he be blogging anonymously like that?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I don’t lose any sleep over it, but I’m at least compelled to write this blog entry to put some closure on it. At the same time that I would have liked to have helped the guy, I do not support mandatory motorcycle helmet laws (the point of which is to protect a brain that is functioning so poorly it’s not even trying to prevent the cracking of the skull it’s in. –Jerry Seinfeld) and I don’t think his was functioning so poorly as to be unaware of the potential risks (even though he did go to the wrong Ivy 😉 ).

Here are some things I think I do know:

  • Dr. Lindeman is a bright and talented guy.
  • The medical advice given on the blog seemed spot-on. It would have improved his legitimate website.
  • The gossip also gave his readers insight, though he could not have said it on a professional blog.
  • This case is going to have a chilling effect on other anonymous medical bloggers.
  • If it were not for Dr. Flea I probably would have accepted an X-ray, hospital admission, and IV antibiotics a couple weeks ago when I put a nail in my hand with a framing nailer. I got out with a tetinus shot and $9 antibiotics and it’s healed perfectly, thank you very much.
  • I’m glad I’ve been commenting and blogging as bill_mcgonigle forever – it removes the temptation to put too big of a foot in your mouth.
  • I have no malpractice insurance.

If I were him, would I be mad at me (the real me, not the hypothetical me – ah, hell, you know what I mean)? Hmmm, maybe. But I’d still really like to have lunch with him someday and would love to read his next blog. Hey, Doc, drop me a line and I’ll setup a Typo blog on your domain pro bono – it’s the least I can do for your saving me untold thousands in unnecessary healthcare utilization.

Privacy is a Human Right

Dan sent me a link to a great essay by Bruce Schneier about privacy being a human right, not a government allowance. The money quote:

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.

Something to consider the next time somebody tells you you only need privacy if you have something to hide.