Thursday, June 2, 2011

Transferring Blog Posts

I had started transferring posts from my Sun Microsystems blog some time ago but the task became gigantic because there was no good tool to map my blog entries and categories into my various blogger blogs. I myself don't have time to compose such a tool. If you run into one, please let me know.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Mother's Love

I originally wrote this entry on October 5, 2004, and published it on

A mother's love belongs to the same field of same-ness of which Mencius speaks.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Taboo against Political Discourse

I originally wrote this entry on September 22, 2004, and published it on

The taboo against political discourse can presumably lead to a more stable society but it can also lead to a society that keeps making serious (and the same) mistakes because it can afford to do so in the absence of any true democratic deliberation or costs. This risky behavior, which often causes huge losses for others, rarely sees those losses come back to haunt it.

Here's what Lawerence Lessig says about this taboo against politics--a taboo which surrounds us at work, in our neighborhoods and even at our schools:

Democracy means rule by the people, but rule means something more than mere elections. In our tradition, it also means control through reasoned discourse. This was the idea that captured the imagination of Alexis de Tocqueville, the nineteenth-century French lawyer who wrote the most important account of early "Democracy in America."

. . . [Today] for most of us for most of the time, there is no time or place for "democratic deliberation" to occur.

More bizzarely, there is generally not even permission for it to occur. We, the most powerful democracy in the world, have developed a strong norm against talking about politics. It's fine to talk about politics with people you agree with. But it is rude to argue about politics with people you disagree with. Political discourse becomes isolated, and isolated discourse becomes extreme. We say what our friends want to hear, and hear very little beyond what our friends say.

Free Culture (p. 42)

Lessig believes that the architecture of blogs solves one part of this problem by engendring a public form of asynchronous communication, which can "increase the opportunity for communication". Hubert Dreyfus would say that cyber-communication (particularly when asynchronous) will not by itself lead to trust, which is required for joint action and engagement. Face to face, embodied communications (which are usually "synchronous") must complement (and are superior to) cyber-communication. Hence, the many bloggers' meetings that are spontaneously organized in most urban areas on the globe.

In fact, we have had several such meetings ourselves here at Sun Microsystems Inc.

[Note: I don't find the "synchronous" vs. "asynchronous" distinction in communication as a very revealing dichotomy in descriptions of human communications. The "embodied" vs. "cyber" dichotomy is probably more important. More on this later.]


Jan. 31, 2005: Here is a commentary in Japanese.

Open Source Society

I originally wrote this entry on September 19, 2004 and published it on

We (and this does not include just the U.S.) are already an open-source society to a very large extent. Information is widely available for those who care to find out and some have proven it possible to do so by their own example.

However, open dialogue matters well above and beyond open source.

Mixing, on the importance of which to innovation Lawerence Lessig has built a whole case, is simply an instance of open dialogue.

Open-source (widely available) information might be a pre-requisite for substantive dialogue but it neither replaces or guarantees it nor leads to it.

Finally, there're those who believe that what matters most is not cyber-dialogue but committed, emboddied dialogue and responsible action, as Hubert Dreyfus has noted in his analysis of the Internet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Digital Walls

I originally wrote this entry on September 14, 2004, and published it on

Dan Gilmore points to Steve McGookin's article "Bloggers and Blinders" and notes McGookin's view on the echo-chamber effect:

Our tendency to visit the sites we agree with, rather than seeking out information and opinion that might change our outlook.

That's quite common. People stick to what they know. For example, how many people, even in the Bay Area, struggle to read IRIB.IR or IRNA.IR. Our minds have been filled with suspicions that make these foreign news sources lose any value that they may actually have.

People are generally more comfortable with what's more familiar to them, and the concept of some abstract, scientific and provable Truth gives them comfort as long as it is the Truth that is most comfortable. In contrast, dialog seems to provide the only way to any shared Truth.

The idea that we can broaden our scope by simply going to a different web site seems rather unfounded to me. Unless one experiences another culture from close-up and cares to engage in a constructive dialog and exchange, there's no hope of inter-cultural understanding . . . even with the Web. In fact, the web could make it harder because there's no need for exposing or experiencing any vulnerabilities, a requirement for any exchange that could lead to greater understanding and trust.

Walls do not need to be visible or built in bricks and cement. They can be digital and mountains high.

Thought Leadership vs. Dialogue Leadership

I originally wrote this entry on September 11, 2004, and published it on

We often hear of "thought leadership" or "moral leadership" but we rarely hear of "dialogue leadership." Why?

"Thought leadership" is about leading through a mostly solitary activity that has been had. We have had some thoughts, at best involving a small clique of people, and then we go out and try to "lead" with those thoughts.

"Dialogue leadership" is about creating opportunities to think together creatively and to learn from each other.

If you want to learn more about the distinction between thought leadership and dialogue leadership, I highly recommend William Isaacs' Dialogue (and the art of thinking together).

Unfortunately, theories of interaction that emphasize asocial conflict have dominance in many peoples' thinking. See, for example, these two highly-recommended books that do a very good job of summarizing these theories: Thomas Schelling's Strategies of Conflict and Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff'sThinking Strategically. These books are often used to teach business strategy, economics and social interaction.

Theories of interaction that search for a more social approach to fostering exchange have been sidelined. See, for example the distinguished economist Oliver Williamson's The Mechanisms of Governance. (I have to admit that I've seen references to Williamson's work in corporate strategy chapters of some strategy books such as Robert Grant's Contemporary Strategy Analysis.)

Ranked-Choice Voting in San Francisco

I originally wrote this entry on September 8, 2004, and published it on

Golden Gate Bridge

I'd written earlier about the mathematics of elections, with particular attention to Condercet or ranked-choice voting. Now, Professor Lawrence Lessig has pointed his readers to a demo for San Francisco's upcoming ranked-choice voting experience.

I wonder whether a reduction in the number of available rankings (say from the number of candidates for an office to only three choices, as has been done in San Francisco) diminishes the probability of cyclic ambiguities.

San Francisco's ranked-choice voting system was passed as proposition A in March 2002, and the first ranked-choice vote for local offices will be held during the November 2nd, 2004 election. It will be a great time to look and see how Condercet voting does in practice in Northern California.

In the text version of the official San Francisco ranked-choice voting demo, we read:

The Department of Elections cannot predict the date on which it will begin the process of elimination and transfer. The Department will do so as soon as possible, after all provisional and absentee ballots are processed. The Department intends to report final election results no later than 28 days after election day.

The "28 days" of waiting for election results seems awefully long. It could be that old counting machines are used for a physical implementation of the various elimination algorithms. As I wrote earlier, some computing power and already-implemented algorithms could help with the counting and the elimination process in ranked-choice voting in cases of result ambiguities.