This is my main blog of works in progress. See also ongoing subject specific blogs at
Children of the Virgin

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Technologies of Awareness - The LNA Paradigm

In the book Neurosphere, I speculate that a global, collective consciousness is in development, as theorized by Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung and many others. (www.neurosphere.org) Without buying into that philosophy necessarily, the technology landscape does appear to be developing in accordance with some of the technical predictions of the theory, and so that perspective might serve as a productive guide to future technology development and related business opportunities.

The LNA paradigm suggests that there are three broad areas of technological and service development that will serve the purposes of emerging needs in human consciousness and interpersonal communication. These are Location, Navigation, and Awareness. These underlying themes can be seen in developments over the last twenty-odd years, and will continue to underpin future technology evolution. One helpful signpost for tracking these developments will be the re-occurrence of biological or evolutionary metaphors in describing technologies or services.

Location (Network Infrastructure)

"Is it a fact or have I dreamed it - that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence!”- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables

The hardwired telecommunications companies laid a dedicated, buried-in-the-ground infrastructure over the past 100 years. New wireless technologies have supplemented these point to point connections to form a continuous blanket, or layer across most of the locations on earth. If this is a fulfillment of Teilhard’s noosphere, or thinking layer, then one should expect a continued expansion of this blanket in breadth of geographic coverage and bandwidth of connections.

As a first step, one should pay attention to technologies like wi-fi that extend the network infrastructure. Of deeper interest are so-called mesh networks that emerge organically and extend/embrace range of locations. As noted, any organic metaphor for telecommunications and information technologies is a sure sign that they fit the LNA paradigm and are likely to be important and growing trends.

Increases in the bandwidth of the individual connections, and coverage of the blanket, are relatively obvious indicators supporting the paradigm. Evolution to so-called 3G and 4G technologies are allowing mobile telecommunications services to more fully support Internet and World Wide Web applications, making them available and functional to greater degrees than the point-to-point world.

Navigation (Personal Interconnection)

“…the evolution of more perfect eyes in a world where there is always more to see.” – Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon

The second pillar of the LNA paradigm is a means of interconnection to and navigation through the locations that are being enveloped in the growing neurosphere. This is a prerequisite for the Teilhardian vision of humans more directly connected to each other.

Moore’s Law and the continued miniaturization of devices of greater and greater functionality enable technology to be a more integral part of human development. Since McLuhan, we speak of the extensions of man, and more specifically, the extensions of human limbs and sense organs.

The LNA paradigm drives infrastructures therefore to be more and more internalized by individuals. Navigation should be handled in smaller and smaller form factors, transitioning from the PC down to the handheld device and, ultimately, to the ultimate user-integrated functionality – chip implants.

The dramatic growth curve of mobile telephone technology illustrates the evolutionary imperative driving navigation technology, just as the dramatic growth curve of the World Wide Web illustrates a vision of human interconnection in the realms of culture and meaning. Thus an obvious near term growth opportunity is the improvement of the Mobile Web, which is currently not nearly fast enough or functional enough.

A technology that bridges location and navigation is that of wireless sensors. RFID, Zigbee and other technologies are riding the curve of Moore’s law and adding literal sense organs to the broader locational infrastructure. Wireless sensors track temperature, air quality, light and darkness. Sense. organs connected to a central processor, or brain, is the definition of living intelligence.

The final step of the navigation portion of the LNA paradigm leads to two-way, electronic interconnection of infrastructure with the human nervous system. As William Gibson had it, the individual becomes jacked in.

Awareness (The World Right Now)

“What’s going on?” – Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On

Viewed through an evolutionary lens, post-9/11 security-state trends, as in the years during WWII, reflect a punctuated evolution driven by great trauma. For WWII, examples included radar and atomic bombs. For WWT (World War on Terror), an example is a proposal for a beefed up, biometrics-based customs system for America’s borders with Canada and Mexico. (Also consider its pale echo in the focus on physical border security a la the Minutemen and the DHS’ Border Infrastructure Project (Fence)) Because the spectacle of planes hitting the World Trade Center impacts us on a subconscious level, the response is to extend antennae further/deeper for protection. In a more linear, conscious way, this is the same dynamic as underlies edge scientists seeking to patrol the solar system for near-Earth asteroids. Our level of daily life protection/security reaches such high levels that we look beyond for next level threats. (Another example of the same dynamic is gerontological health care.)

This emergent (in some ways pre-conscious) need for greater bio-neurological awareness leads to a series of technology growth areas. Border security means not just perimeter protection like fences, but immune system metaphors – for example RFID-embedded passports or biometric detection systems.

Wireless sensors, as previously noted, are growth technologies that add awareness across the full locational range of the infrastructure that is developing. The proliferation of functions of such devices should be followed, especially as they mimic organic functions – environmental sensing for temperature, motion, light, etc.

Ubiquitous computing extends awareness, even consciousness, to inanimate objects. This is an underlying principle of Teilhard’s theory, that everything has an interior, i.e. a rudimentary form of consciousness. This trend turns the theory on its head in a sense, as humans embed consciousness in the device, rather that the interior consciousness evolving on its own into higher forms.

Locational technologies are beginning to extend awareness to an incredible degree. Remote monitoring of the range of locations on earth extended into outer space with Landsat and its successor mapping satellites, most recently monetized in a revolutionary way by Google Earth. Even in space, the connection is bidirectional, and we can consume the remote monitoring of outer space by space shuttle astronauts, geosynchronous satellites, and space telescopes. I foresee a demand for a Window on the Stars application that allows viewers to tune into any of these myriad space missions and view all the splendor of the far-flung universe in real time (unlike Google’s Sky). All that’s lacking is the navigational user interface and rights to use the video created by taxpayer dollars.


In the vein of Windows on the Stars, in the sense of the most expanded view of human extensions, a popular desktop PC application is called SETI At Home. This application ties individual computers together to pool spare processing power, a development now known as Grid Computing. Right now, this is group action through the donation of the technical infrastructure of each individual. What happens when the human is herself interconnected with that computer in joint action? I would suggest that what happens is collective consciousness, what Teilhard called the Omega Point. So even at the speculative boundaries of the LNA Paradigm, one may draw some guidance toward predicting likely technology development.

Nomads in the 21st Century

Among the seeming endless parade of endangered and oppressed people around the world, the plight of the Tibetans is something that caught my particular interest. I live in Boulder Colorado, the biggest hotbed of white Tibetans outside of California. My attention was grabbed by the parallel of the Chinese expansion into Tibet in the last 50 years with a virtually identical one that happened almost a hundred years ago to the Mongolians. That one also targeted a largely nomadic people.

From there, one can start to think of the Jews of Europe, the Gypsies, Bedouins, and the indigenous peoples of North America, and the inexorable absorption or destruction of any nomadic peoples who attempted to survive into the twenty-first century. What is it that drives it?

The unlikely topic that drew me to this historical cycle was dinosaurs. The head of the New York Museum of Natural History early in the twentieth century, Roy Chapman Andrews, gained fame as a dinosaur hunter. Andrews wrote a children’s book called All About Dinosaurs, which I read about 50 times when I was 9 or 10 years old, wanting to be a paleontologist. Andrews led an expedition to the Gobi Desert and discovered the first fossil dinosaur eggs. The book mixed stories of scientists with graphic descriptions of dinosaurs to get a kid’s imagination going.

When my own kids came along, my wife and I acquired a couple of dinosaur books, and the stories told (T-rex vs. the triceratops) sure sounded like they were ripped off directly from Andrews’ protean accounts. A couple years later, I discovered a bio of Andrews called Dragon Hunter. It provided a great adult perspective on a childhood memory, which led me in turn to abebooks.com to find his original 1940 report of the expeditions called The New Conquest of Central Asia.

I’m currently wading through it, and while it gives a great accounting of the paleontological and other scientific purposes of the expedition, it is also interesting for its portrayal of China, Russia and Inner and Outer Mongolia in the years after the Bolshevik takeover of Outer Mongolia, and China’s inroads into Inner Mongolia.

In fact in the 9 years of expeditions, Andrews recorded the steady settlement of nomadic Mongolia by Chinese farmers, several miles deeper into Inner Mongolia every year.

And in March of this year, those accounts echo in the news from Tibet:

"Several hundred monks from Bora monastery in Amchok Bora, a primarily Tibetan nomadic area in Gannan TAP, Gansu Province, demonstrated earlier yesterday (March 18). According to a reliable source, they broke into Chinese shops in the area and destroyed property, although they deliberately avoided violence against people in their attacks on property. According to the same source, they stopped when they were asked to do so by a respected lama and possibly other monks too. The source also said that large numbers of Tibetan nomads gathered in the area and were persuaded not to carry out protests by local monks. Casualties as a result of the protest, which was met by armed police, could not be confirmed.
Troops also broke up crowds of Tibetan demonstrators in Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county town in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu (Amdo), when a group of students began protesting and were soon joined by nomads from neighboring counties on March 16. The protestors, some of whom carried images of the Dalai Lama, shouted pro-independence slogans, and called for the return of the Dalai Lama. A Tibetan flag was displayed and protestors wore white khatags (Tibetan blessing scarves)."

Unrest in Tibet is echoed due north in the province of Xinjuan, home to a people of nomads and cowboys known as Uighurs, a people both Turkic and largely Muslim.

China’s attitudes toward these Western regions are complex. On the one hand, there has never been a repudiation of the imperialist tendencies of the Maoist Communist Government. The current government’s public pronouncements echo the florid style of socialist revolution (“Splittists!” “The Dalai Lama Clique”), even as the country embraces capitalism with a vengeance.

Analysis of migration to the West might start with the simple, evident need to relieve population pressures in the coastal regions. Those pressures of course were exacerbated by economic policies that created great wealth through manufacturing in the Pearl River Delta, and drawing workers from rural areas.

Further, the Western regions are virtually unexplored in terms of mineral riches and may contain great wealth in natural resources. (see

And finally, the fundamental requirement for China remains stability. With more than a billion people compressed largely in eastern coastal areas, and the memory of the insanity of the Cultural Revolution still fresh, China pleads the need for stability in response to criticisms of their stifling of democracy, their pursuit of economic growth at the expense of air and water quality, and their suppression of a free press.

Indeed, the maps and news organs of the Chinese government carefully omit any mention of the word Tibet (as do international investors). And with China’s role in the world economy, providing cheap labor to American producers and buying U.S. debt to finance the American foreign trade deficit, neither international investors nor liberal democratic governments are likely to press the issues. The Beijing Olympics came and went with barely a ripple of criticism of Olympic ideals being upheld in a land where democratic dissent is violently suppressed.

So Tibet not only reflects the plight of the nomad in the 21st century global community, it also is a fulcrum and avatar of the struggle that is emerging as mankind grows headlong toward a world population of 10 billion. That struggle encompasses a globalized economy, security and terrorism, wars and refugees and more – I call the challenge, in engineering-speak, Scaling Humanity. (Scaling Humanity will be the topic of the next DifferNetX rant, er, essay.) The pressure on nomads is growing in a globalized terrorist world, where your every neighbor might be a suicide bomber, and anyone who hasn’t been part of your world for generations is suspect.

In the meantime, Tibetans are nomads caught in a losing battle with the property owners of agricultural and industrial nations, the dominant mode of existence for the last 10,000 years. In this, they have something in common with Gypsies, who face eviction and assault all over Europe (http://www.errc.org/News_index.php), with American Indians, and perhaps even with Jews, an ancient nomadic people before, after and during their return to the Promised Land.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Terror Smog

“The Department of Homeland Security has raised the security threat level to Orange.”
I have heard this repeated about one hundred times per day on every one of my twenty business trips this year involving air travel. (It’s the kind of announcement you stop paying attention to, of course, due to numbing repetition.) It seems to have stayed at Orange for a long time now – years? Terror is ever present, and may always be. Kind of like air pollution – call it Terror Smog.

The recent attacks in Mumbai (which I still don’t know how to pronounce) were an example of where we have been for the last 7 years. Or more. Before the rampage of ten gunmen for three days in December 2008, “there was a similar attack in 2006 on a train and killed a similar number of people” according to Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence. Go back to 2001 and there was an attack on the Indian parliament.

Who was responsible? The names change, the people change in and out, but there is no Carlos the Jackal anymore, no one hidden leader and controller hiding out in the hills, to be hunted down and neutralized and ending attacks forever.

Bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Well, before 9/11, there was the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Not the same perpetrators? Well, depends how you define them. They define themselves in a very fluid and somewhat random way. All that is in common is a very loose and broad philosophy, into which someone’s particular beef (CIA support of dictators, failures to wear the veil, too many McDonalds’) can be slotted in.

Since 9-11, what’s the extent of the Al Qaeda war on the Western way of life? There has been a train bombing in Madrid (2004), a bombing in London (2005), and a resort bombing in Bali (2003). All of a piece, but so distributed as to make it clear that one of two things are happening. Stepped up security (and curtailment of civil liberties) has worked – there are only isolated attacks - or there has been no significant dent in the frequency of terrorist attacks in the last fifty years or so.

Except for Iraq, where we conveniently placed a huge army of Westerners and their administrative and journalistic hangers on to be targets for any unemployed terrorists who can get there. In Iraq, you have Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, taking on the general philosophy of killing Americans or anyone who likes them. But, despite the name, the attacks were not directed by Bin Laden, (who has been confined to his caves for the last 7 years,) or any central command.

So maybe what we have is a general rage and discontentment that exists and will always exist in a world where a smaller percentage of the global population is in want, yet still is growing in absolute numbers among a world population that won’t peak at 10 billion until about 30 years from now. That’s an enormous substrate of poverty and ignorance from which can and does emerge periodic groups of nut jobs to carry out the sporadic attacks. But there is no action the targets of the attacks can take to really in a blanket way take care of all the individual grievances.

And the attacks are not enough to change the business of the world. But enough to be an ever-present annoyance, and occasionally and randomly, a threat to health. Can you ever get it to zero?

It strikes me a lot like the situation with air pollution over the last 40 years or so. General levels of pollution are associated with a general level of health effects. Here’s a randomly selected example in New Jersey.

Table 1: Annual Public Health Damage from Fine Soot (PM 10) in New Jersey
Health Effect Number of Cases
Premature Mortality (age 30+) 2,300 to 5,400
Respiratory Hospital Admissions 5,100 to 7,800
Cardiovascular Hospital Admissions 2,700 to 7,500
New Cases of Chronic Bronchitis 450 to 9,500
Missed Work Days 460,000 to 530,000
Asthma Attacks 330,000 to 1.4 million
Restricted Activity Days 7.1 million to 9.7 million
Increased Symptom Days 14 million to 45 million

It is theoretically possible to reduce air pollution to zero, and thus eliminate the health effectds. But after 40 years, depending how you count, it is clearly not politically, socially or economically possible to do so. We have determined that we will live with an ever-present level of pollution and its consequences. Smog is with us forever. And at some level, so is terrorism.

The current Threat Level according to Transportation Security Administration is Orange. The paragraph that explains it (as of 12/24/08) reads:
Currently, there is no indication of plotting within the United States. We believe the arrests of extremists engaged in a substantial plot to destroy multiple passenger aircraft flying from the United Kingdom to the United States have significantly disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted.

However, that particular plot alleged to have been disrupted has not been the reason for the elevation to Orange – it’s been Orange since, well as long as I can remember. The recording says “has been raised to Orange”. The last record I can find is that the level for flights from UK to US was raised in August 2006. But in fact the level is and has been Orange “all commercial aviation operating in or destined for the United States”.

After a Google search, I have now found that the levels have fluctuated since 9/11, but it’s hard to follow which are general aviation, which are other transit (trains after the London bombings), etc. But never below Yellow – Significant Risk of Terrorist Attacks - and Orange – High Risk - for more than two years now.

And it’s not a conspiracy or mystery. It’s just what we live with in the 21st Century. It’s Terror Smog.

Source of table:

Source of Threat Level

History of Threat Level

Sunday, December 7, 2008

There's More of Us Than There Are of Them

When Kerry lost to Bush in 2004, my wife was devastated. She had worked her butt off, local state and Federal elections, feeling the choice couldn’t be any clearer. Yeah, Kerry was flawed but the gap was enormous. She even held a Bake Sale for Kerry for Chrissakes.

When it was over, I tried to console her, noting that Colorado had elected a Democratic Senator and moved the state legislature to Democratic control. I argued, it was the idea of a sitting president in wartime – and 2004 was the thick of wartime – you remember the torture, the beheadings, the savagery on all sides. But she didn’t buy it. And I said, well just remember, there are more of us than there are of them.

I’m not even sure I had thought it through when I said it. But now I look at this election and I think again, there’s more of us than there are of them. And Obama appealed to the base of Us in a way Kerry, Gore and even Clinton never did. (cf. Rove strategy of appealing to his base, reprised this year by the choice of Palin.)

The dynamics of this shift in Colorado began a while back(all this applies to New Mexico and Nevada too). We moved here in 1994, the end of a three-year influx of right wing refugees from California’s earthquakes and race riots. The University of Colorado football coach forms the Promise Keepers – Focus on the Family gets huge in Colorado Springs. Elements of these movements appealed to long time Coloradans from ranching, oil and gas, and the Air Force Academy/Lockheed Martin. But those were all shrinking, even shrinking from within. Oil and gas becomes renewable energy. Military tech companies become dot.com funding vehicles. And all the while, the new Coloradans, like us, were growing.

And who are the new Coloradans? High tech kids. Jamband devotees. Extreme sports Olympians. Not to mention the foundational marathon runners and cyclists who made Colorado the place to train. They are young. They are environmental. They are free spirits of personal liberty. They are Us.

Oh, and one more thing, to get me out of my yuppie Boulder-centrismo. Arapahoe Country registers more Dems in 2008 for the first time ever. What drives it? The City of Aurora. Young white professionals? Nope. The international renewal of the American dream. Mexicans? Sure. But also Ethiopians, Sudanese, Vietnamese, Kenyans, Tibetans, Brazilians. Why are they Democrats? Because Democrats are actually compassionate, not sound bite compassionate conservatives. Don’t bullshit me. You couldn’t bullshit my grandparents, immigrants from Europe. And you can’t bullshit this generation of immigrants. They vote for the future, just like scientists.

Did I mention Science? Scientists (more broadly technologists) believe in the future. They invent things. When a Republican platform votes against stem cell research, what’s the message? The Inquisition is paying a visit to Galileo, 400 years later. Technologists and scientists have a long memory, as well as a long view. We decry our educational system all the time, but more American kids go to college than ever, many still study science or if not work in science and technology fields, and they know what side their bread is buttered on.

What do these trends look like elsewhere in the country? Virginia and North Carolina go for Obama. Again, all these same issues. Science and technology in Research Triangle in N.C. and the Dulles corridor in Virginia. Not to mention cosmopolitian beach culture in both states. And the immigrant influx in and around the nation’s capital. Trending Democrat, permanently.

Pennsylvania and Ohio? A little bit different dynamic, as the demographics aren’t changing quite so fast. But the past is not coming back. Republicans failed to deliver any economic recoveries, and so split the Reagan unified business/social conservatism message they had lucked into in the 80’s – the old way was the best – just wait and it will come back. The past is not coming back. So the rust belt also needs to believe in the future – but Obama better deliver on Green Jobs.

And by the way, the economic message of progress through technology, and more generally a future-oriented business climate, brings some of that undecided upper middle class, fiscally conservative/socially moderate vote. Forget voting for moderate Republicans – you can’t trust them not to make a deal with the devil of Americans preaching Taliban culture. (Calling all Log Cabin Republicans – you can come home now too.)

And so in the wake of the Obama victory, my wife and many friends are happier, but their first instinct is to move to the remaining injustices – we lost gay marriage in California? Joe fucking Lieberman? Record number of threats of assassination and gun purchases?

Let’s talk for a minute about what we may now comfortably call, the Fringe. In Colorado, a nut job demagogue named Kristi Burton foisted onto the ballot a “pro-life” referendum, Amendment 48; it would have declared that fertilized ova had all legal rights of personhood. Let’s leave aside that the anti-abortion movement is a stalking horse for a much broader agenda of installing a theocratic government restricting not just sex outside procreation but really fun of any kind. The vote tally: 26.7% voted for, 73.2% against. So there’s the hard core of Them.

I would venture to say it’s even smaller than that, as it picked up some votes owing to the Politics is Hard factor. Remember the first 2001 Satruday Night Live skit about Bush – Will Ferrell asks Cheney, “how long have I been president?” Three weeks. “Man, this is hard!” It’s a fact that about half the population is too busy trying to feed their families, buy a new car, or just sit on the couch and have a beer to spend extra time on understanding politics, even a little. They would like someone to hand them a voter guide that says, we get you, don’t worry about it, just check off here, here and here. Politics is Hard. Ok, thanks. Unless it hits me later (and most of these middle-aged guys aren’t faced with an unwanted pregnancy any time soon) I’m done. And this is just the ones who bother to vote. So some of that 26.7% hasn’t really been listening.

So, any way you slice it, there’s only 26.7% of them, max! The one thing we all have to do now is start acting like there’s more of Us. Curb our excesses. Clinton was painted liberal but governed fiscally conservative (can you say balanced budget?) Don’t gloat now that everyone else has caught up with you and realized Bush is an idiot. And don’t insult the beer drinkers who like to shoot guns. Reach out to them – they (most of them) aren’t shooting at you. You could even reach out to Joe Fucking Lieberman; his days are numbered anyway as Chris Shays becomes the Last Republican in New England.

There’s more of Us than there are of Them.

Good article on voter registration and demographics.



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

DifferNet Mark 2

After a hiatus of ten years, I am reviving DifferNet as a blog.
This is a test.