Blogs and Elections

Phil Wolff writes about “the blogger’s platform” for the US elections / California governor recall. I was thinking that maybe we can do something similar for the Indian elections we are going to see in the course of the next year.

The blogger platform: Elevate blogging from narrative to activism, from lifestyle to politics, from netizen to citizen.

Platform points:

1. A weblog for every elected official before the 2004 election.
– Improve transparency
– Conversation with constituencies more than lobbyists
– Improve the collective memory of our term-limited legislators

2. A weblog for every student and teacher by 2005.
– Investing in our future workforce
– Assumes access in every classroom
– Better parental involvement

3. A weblog for every Californian by 2006.
– Economic development in a knowledge, service, and collaboration economy
– Shorten the time to create jobs and find work

4. Censor-free Internet access in every public library.
– Democracy needs freedom to read

5. Enterprise blognets for state and local government.
– Government services turbocharged by collaboration and communication
– Government workers in more intimate communication with their customers

In short, participatory democracy between elections.

India needs its citizens to participate in the emerging democracy. We are responsible for our own future. Blogs and Wikis can be an extremely useful way to get the discussion on issues into the open.

Cheaper Solar Power

The Economist writes about the declining costs of solar cells:

The first problem is that the cells convert only 10-15% of the radiation from the sun into energy. The second is that the photovoltaic (PV) material used is a form of silicon that has to be made under high-vacuum conditions and heated in special kilns to 1,400C. That makes photovoltaic solar cells horrendously expensive.

Consider the small model home set up in Raleigh by the North Carolina Solar Centre. Its 3.6-kilowatt PV system generates about half of the house’s electricity needs. But at $9 per watt, the system would cost a homeowner around $32,000 to install.

How to bring such costs down to a more manageable few thousand dollars? One answer that is attracting attention is to use carbon nanorods, superstrong cylinders of carbon atoms that are 75,000 times thinner than a human hair. If a group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California achieves its ambitions, carbon-based solar cells could cost as little as a tenth of the price of today’s silicon-based versions.

Newspapers Disrupted

Tim Porter writes:

When the Sunday Times of London decides to publish a new monthly section for youth – on an inserted CD instead of paper – that’s innovation. [Read: Newspaper’s Newest Section: A CD ]

When the New York Times tiers its content by popularity and date – today’s news free, last week’s paid, crosswords for a price – that’s innovation.

When Louis Border starts selling an all-you-can read smorgasbord of newspaper and magazine articles by the month at KeepMedia – that’s innovation.

Reading Blogs

Lilia Efimova writes:

I have three main goals when reading other weblogs: staying updated, following a conversation and problem-solving. I will try to explain what I do in each case.

1. My main way to stay updated is my news aggregator.

2. Following a conversation is different. In this case I’m interested to see how idea from one weblog (my own or one I read) develops across weblogs. In this case I use mainly tracking tools: comments, trackbacks, Technorati, referrals.

3. Problem-solving. If I have a specific question/problem in mind I use search. Could be anything between searching my weblog/ weblogs I read/ all weblogs/ all internet.

I too read blogs in my Info Aggregator (mail client), with subscriptions to about 120 feeds. Every so often, I will come across a new blog, following on a link from one of the existing blogs. Then, I will scan some of the posts by the blogger, and if I like what I see, then I will add the RSS feed into the aggregator.

I find bloggers stimulate my thinking – providing different insights on topics I want to track. They are the best thing to have happened to the Internet in the past few years! It is the way we should have been in 1995.

TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: My Solution Ideas (Part 2)

Worms

Protection against worms goes beyond the email. But it is still an important aspect of system security. A combination of two measures is needed: a firewall with only the essential ports open, and system software that is updated with the latest patches. Considering the number of computers now being connected directly to the Internet, personal firewalls are going to become important. The recent MSBlast worm infected these computers (most enterprise computers were unaffected due to the firewall). Users will also need to be more alert to advisories that are issued for system patches. Ideally, this process should be automated just like anti-virus software which automatically checks for updates with a central server.

Again here, users must consider the option of Linux as a possible alternative. Most virus and worm writers focus their efforts on the Microsoft platform because of its near ubiquity. Linux, by contrast, can benefit from the attention of the open-source community.

Newsletter Distribution

Email publishers have had a tough time as their emails have either been getting rejected or lost in the flood. The solution is very clear and obvious: RSS. Email publishers have to move to a publish-subscribe model. Of course, the issue they will face is that only a limited number of their current users may have RSS readers. This is a solvable problem, given the readers and aggregators that are available, and the ease with which they can be set-up.

Summary

The email client, our Office suite, the web browser (and now, the cellphone and SMS) have for many of us become the way we do our work, more than the phone, fax and letters. The challenge before us is to understand and use technology intelligently. There may not be perfect solutions, but they are more than good enough.

So, while the problems may be complex, there are some simple solutions which can be implemented at the enterprise and individual level to ensure that email stays effective. I personally do not believe that the alternative is not to use email. While there are many ideas which can be toyed with (for example, the use of private RSS feeds), none has the simplicity and ease of email as it exists today. The solutions are there and some may be harder to implement than others.

If email has to rise from the hammering (and obituaries) that it is receiving, a participative and emergent response is needed from the user community. The alternative is to isolate ourselves from the network, and that is a non-starter. There are new promising developments like the combinational use of RSS and IMAP around which innovative communication and information distribution solutions can be crafted. But these are going to make time to make their way into the user community.

Email may be dying, but it can be re-incarnated by our individual and collective actions. If anything, we have to brace ourselves for even greater email in the times to come.

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