Watching congress

Who watches the watchmen?

Who ensures that Congress is performing its oversight responsibilities – We do.

In the US context, we’re facing a takeover of two government sponsored entities who back about half the mortgages in the US.

It’s time to do some research, call your congressperson and let them know how you think accountability should work.  If you want to check on your congressional representation, Legistorm has a nice dashboard which shows congressional financial disclosures along with news on legislation.


Avoiding the federal reserve? Try a local currency

There are, in some cities, local currencies that can serve as alternatives to Federal Reserve Notes.

Ithica hours are the most famous example, but there is a long tradition of local and community-based currencies, some based on utopian ideals of how community members should treat each other.

These local currencies have the advantage of keeping commerce local, since the notes historically have limited utility outside the community they can be redeemed in.

Several communities were established in the early 1800s, that experimented with this concept. For example, Cincinnati Time Store notes were implemented in Cincinnati, Ohio. These were initially redeemable at one store in Ohio, but the concept spread to other communities throughout the Ohio River basin.

Cincinnati Time Store Note image

Cincinnati Time Store Note image

This part of Cincinnati’s history wasn’t something we studied in high school. The Cincinnati Time Store was a project of Josiah Warren, who also helped found the communities of:

So it’s been proven that these work at the community level. How would they work in the societies of today?


Software security is still a mess

Maybe it’s just a bad dream, but it seems like 2008 has been a year of serious security issues, which have the potential to cause major problems on the Internet.

First, there was the OpenSSL vulnterability, which seems to greatly affect Ubuntu Linux (there is exploit code in the wild)

Then the DNS cache poisoning vulnerability was disclosed on 7/8/2008. Most systems had patches available within 3 or 4 days. Microsoft’s fix for that broke many installations of the ZoneAlarm firewall on Windows.

The combined effects of these two vulnerabities are significant, you may not be able to verify you are connected to the correct web site, even if the SSL connection appears to be good.

Keep up with those patches, and remember:  Some user have even more basic problems

Dynamic compilation for computer emulation

This post is really about using Apple Integer BASIC as a scripting language…. Intel Mac users can use Apple’s “Woz BASIC” as a scripting environment on Apple’s Unix.

There is also a related thesis on emulation of old software, which explains the title of the post:

So far, this is only available on Intel Macs, and I MUST caution you against using BASIC for too long, lest you develop bad habits like using GOTO. Better learn Lisp or a Lisp dialect such as LOGO as your first language.

Innovations in open source textbooks

The clash of idealogies is coming to a head in the textbook publishing world.

On one side is the walled-garden experience available on the iPhone and Amazon Kindle, enforced by DRM technology. If you wonder if the iPhone is open, ask Apple when you can run Java applications on it.

On the other side is the open philosophy represented by creative commons, which is very compatible with the academic goal of distributing knowledge. I suspect that the tension between proprietary education material sand open education resources will exist for a while, but the early adopters will realize significant economic benefits for their school systems:

Here are some early open text/open education sites:

Other sites:

Global Text books

Increasing independence with “sticky” energy

Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, and Robert Burgelman, Stanford business professor, suggest that energy resilience should be the goal of energy policy.

The article’s main points are:

  • energy independence goals have been set, and not reached
  • electricity-based technologies aren’t subject to supply shocks or interruptions
  • energy resilience should be the realistic goal, not independence
  • we should first switch gas-guzzlers to hybrid capability (gasoline and electric)

I agree that electricity is less portable, or more “sticky” than petroleum. Electricity generally needs to be consumed near the point of generation.  That means the only other barriers are driving behavior, climate and geography, because the infrastructure for electricity isn’t going to be everywhere you might want to drive.

Formal studies of other conversion projects like this have been done, primarily around a switch to hydrogen fuel. The EU’s matisse project has done economic studies of what this would mean, and similar work is needed for the hybrid question.

My concern is that the car consumer is already ahead of Mr. Grove here, and there will be little political support for this. So what is the best way to achieve the goal of switching SUV and Van fleets to gas/electric hybrid operation?

Corporate fleets of vans and trucks could be switched first, because:

  • A smaller number of companies and government entities are effected (easier data collection and enforcement)
  • For government fleets, the economic risks are spread across a larger tax base

Suggestions and pointers to models of switching costs are welcome.

Town of Felton, Calif to switch to Linux for a week

On July 28th, the community of Felton, CA will switch to Linux for a week. Some installations started July 14th. has details, and the main site seems to be

Here are the represented GNU/Linux distributions:

  • AntiX
  • Fedora Project
  • Mandriva
  • Ubuntu
  • Wolvix

I wonder what the results of the ‘switch’ campaign will be.