Monthly Archives: December 2006

John Edwards for President!

I attended a John Edwards for President rally today in Chapel Hill (my hometown as well as Edwards’). I am particularly enthused by his candidacy, and believe that the things he stands for to be of tremendous importance in solving the problems faced by our country.

  • Provide moral leadership in the world
  • Strengthen our middle class and end poverty
  • Guarantee universal health care for every American
  • Lead the fight against global warming
  • Get America and other countries off our addiction to oil

Go John!

Book Review, “Collapse” by Jared Diamond

Just finished reading “Collapse” by Jared Diamond (I mentioned this book in my 12/24 post). I will admit to being a card-carrying liberal (but also a card-carrying member of the NRA!), however also note while I have a technical graduate degree, my undergraduate degree is in business, and I believe in capitalism. To my mind, Jared’s book is a very thoughtful and scholarly tome on the life and times of societies, and ties economic success to environmental awarness.

Diamond begins his book with a comparison of a historical farm in Norse Greenland and a farm in present-day Montana, talking about the challenges that each face(d), setting the stage for understanding larger societal collapses due to failure to adapt to changing conditions and recognition of resource limitations. He lays out the plan for his thesis, including a discussion of his positions on economics and the environment, trying to proactively defuse perceptions of bias. After the introduction, Diamond turns to a lengthy discussion of modern Montana, including a treatment of issues with mining, forestry, soil & water conversation, native & non-native species, as well as discussion of views toward regulatory frameworks.

Next, Diamond looks at past societies — Easter Island (once covered in dense forest) is particularly poignant. He often returns to a simple question at many places in the book, viewed from many angles — what did the Easter Islander who cut the last tree think about it? Then he considers Pacific islands, comparing differently resourced islands and the way their natives either did or did not adapt. No study of collapse is complete without discussion of the Anasazi and other southwestern US peoples. The level of detail in anthropological knowledge here, from both accessibility and the preservation of wood and packrat middens, provides particularly clear insights. He considers the Maya, a complex case with tantalizing incomplete records and information. The Norse and their expansion from Scandanavia to Iceland, Greenland, and the fringes of North America provide interesting studies in the way that cultural norms can play to the success or failure of a society; Diamond devotes 100 pages to these discussions.

Diamond then turns to modern societies with discussion of Rwanda, Hispaniola (the dichotomy illustrated by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the perhaps “accidental” conservation that has made such a big difference), China, and Australia. I was particularly interested in the coverage of China and Australia, but for different reasons. China is such a huge force in today’s world in population, resources, and the growth of consumption. China is building one coal-fired power plant each week! Understanding the Chinese connection to world economic and environmental stability is critical. Australia fascinated me, as I was surprised to learn of the extent of resource depletion and the marginality of many of its agricultural endeavors. On a personally first-world selfish consumer level, I hope that the wonderful Shiraz of the Barossa Valley, for example, continues to be available at accessible prices ;-).

After he discusses the past and present, Diamond attempts to explain why some societies seem to make disasterous decisions, including the “tradgedy of the commons” (this is the view that of a common resource, I better make sure I get all I can get because if I don’t, you will get mine and yours). He then works to tie economic success to environmental awareness, and in my mind, does a good job. Diamond is clearly not a man who simply says “business = bad” but recognizes the symbiotic relationship that exists there, particularly in sustainable resource exploitation. He lists our serious problems, but then optimistically closes with reasons for hope that we will “get it” and effectively address the problems that face us.

I heartily recommend this for your reading pleasure.

Here’s an Amazon link to the book

Clay birds & .22 tin cans

One of the things that I enjoy doing when I visit my parents is stepping back to “country boy” mode and shooting clay birds in the “back yard” and and walking down to the range to plink at tin cans with a .22 pistol. Although the weather this Christmas was wet and blustery, we found time to get out and shoot a bit. Here’s a picture of my oldest son, Jason, bearing down on a clay bird. Your intrepid correspondent got in on the action a bit, too. I shot very well, considering it’s been several months since I’ve been to the skeet range.

Earlier in the day, Jason and I walked to the field across the road from the house, and down the muddy field road about 1/2 mile to the rifle/pistol range. I took my Browning Buck Mark, and Jason took my dad’s Ruger. We went through a couple hundred rounds in short order, spinning cans all around the backstop. Great way to spend part of the day.

Holiday pause…

While the holiday season is often a whirlwind of plans, preparations, etc., today has really been a breath of fresh air. The gifts are bought and wrapped, we’re having dinner at the neighbors’ house tonight, so no cooking, and the agenda has been simply to take the dogs for a walk, exercise, and read a book.

For about a month, I’ve been part of the way through reading “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. I’ve read a couple hundred pages today, and may finish this afternoon. Reading is one thing that I don’t get to do enough, it seems. My dad has given me a subscription to the Economist magazine for Christmas (the first issue just arrived), and am looking forward to reading that, even if I skim more than throughly reading as I’d like.

Happy holidays to all!

Messaging (email), calendars & collaboration

As part of my charge at MCNC, I’m responsible for the corporate IT infrastructure for our organization of ~45 people. We have a hodge-podge of software for collaboration — IMAP email daemon, MeetingMaker calendar, a plethora of IM clients, standard Microsoft Office clients and a Microsoft file server environment. We need to replace our IMAP daemon as it has some issues, the calendar software is not everyone’s favorite, and we email too many files around. We have experimented with Google Apps for your Domain, and that’s very promising, but not quite there. I really think it needs IMAP support. There’s a good article in the current issue of the Economist magazine that highlights Arizona State’s use of Gmail for students. I think, though that in the next 12-18 months, we’re going to see a lot from Google in this space. My colleague Paul Jones also wrote about this in his blog recently.

We’re looking right now at a product called Zimbra, and it is promising, though a bit sluggish in performance, I think. It’s inexpensive, though, and might hold us until we could actually outsource much of this to Google or someone like that. Organizations like mine don’t need to be spending their resources supporting email, calendaring, IM, etc, and need to focus on their core mission.

Electric power for dummies?

So, I am spending the afternoon pouring through Wikipedia, trying to come better up to speed on various things electrical.  While I’ve managed data centers for years, I have typically not had to deal with power and circuit issues the way I need to do now.  We’re working to determine PDU utilization, circuit routing and a myriad of other things as we continue to build out the occupancy of MCNC‘s data center…I think I need to go find the book “electric power for dummies”!  I’m sure it exists somewhere!

Grades turned in…

As mentioned in my post on 11/15, one of the things I do is teach a course in Systems Analysis & Design at UNC-Chapel Hill SILS (INLS382). I really enjoy teaching, but it’s always a great feeling to drop off the grade sheet at the end of the semester…Woohoo! Now I’m ready for the holidays! Just need some winter weather, as we’re having a heat wave here in NC at the end of December.