Stuart Blog 2: October 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

Roland Fryer at the City Club on November 2

Courtesy of Brewed Fresh Daily comes news of an interesting event at the Cleveland City Club. From
Roland Fryer, a 27-year-old assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, will speak about the racial student achievement gap and what to do about it.
I'm dusting off my neglected membership to attend. Here are the details. And more.

Before you go, you should read two things. The first is "Still Seperate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid" by Jonathan Kozel. It's in the September issue of Harper's.
A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out to me one of the two white children I had ever seen there. His presence in her class was something of a wonderment to the teacher and to the other pupils. I asked how many white kids she had taught in the South Bronx in her career. "I've been at this school for eighteen years," she said. "This is the first white student I have ever taught."
The author travels across the country visiting schools whose demagraphics mirror this anecdote. His visits illuminate an America fundamentally indistinguishable from America at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson .
I had made repeated visits to a high school where a stream of water flowed down one of the main stairwells on a rainy afternoon and where green fungus molds were growing in the office where the students went for counseling. A large blue barrel was positioned to collect rain-water coming through the ceiling. In one makeshift elementary school housed in a former skating rink next to a funeral establishment in yet another nearly all-black-and-Hispanic section of the Bronx, class size rose to thirty-four and more; four kindergarten classes and a sixth-grade class were packed into a single room that had no windows. The air was stifling in many rooms, and the children had no place for recess because there was no outdoor playground and no indoor gym.

In another elementary school, which had been built to hold 1,000 children but was packed to bursting with some 1,500, the principal poured out his feelings to me in a room in which a plastic garbage hag had been attached somehow to cover part of the collapsing ceiling. "This," he told me, pointing to the garbage bag, then gesturing around him at the other indications of decay and disrepair one sees in ghetto schools much like it elsewhere, "would not happen to white children." Libraries, once one of the glories of the New York City school system, were either nonexistent or, at best, vestigial in large numbers of the elementary schools. Art and music programs had also for the most part disappeared. "When I began to teach in 1969," the principal of an elementary school in the South Bronx reported to me, "every school had a full-time licensed art and music teacher and librarian."
These stories expose as truly shameful the arguments of those who speak of "personal responsibility" as the solution the urban achievement gap. (The article gets worse by the way. Even more enraging and more depressing. You should find it.)

The second thing you should read is the profile of Fryer in the New York Times.
He [Fryer] entered graduate school at Penn State University, and it was there, early on, that he realized the power of economics to study race. ''We learned all these powerful math tools that were very deep, very insightful, and were being used to solve -- you know, silly problems, frankly,'' he says. ''At the same time, you'd look on TV and see people literally yelling at each other about affirmative action, bringing up anecdotal stories of one white guy who lost his house and his wife and his kids. The whole debate could be turned by bringing in some horrible travesty. And I thought, here's the exact way that these tools should be used.''
This is the one thing that I wish I could imprint on the mind of every person in this country. Our society has lost respect for facts. Facts have been replaced with perspectives. Everyone believes that economics, biology and sociology are all in the realm of opinion. "Blacks underachieve because of their environment" and "Blacks underachieve because of their nature" are no longer hypothesis to be analyzed and investigated. They're opinions so yours is as valid as mine is as valid as the professor's. And it's no wonder that no one bothers to go to the library to educate themselves before they decide on the validity of the various hypotheses.

There's a mountain of material in the library but I think that any "personaly responsibility" peddler should make their first fact finding expedition to the schools that are profiled in Kozol's article. He did mention one in Cleveland. It was a school named in honor of Martin Luther King and it was mentioned alongside schools named after Rosa Parks and Langston Hughes. *wretch* If you have faith in your neighbors you'll decide that this is the result of ignorance. And if you're more cynical you'll call this ignorance willful. Whichever, are there facts which can be marshalled in reponse? Is there an intellectually rigorous case that this country hasn't shamefully abandonded its responsibility to generations of children?

Kozol's article suggests strongly that a new and more earnest round of enforced integration is necessary. I'm not sure what Fryer's opinion is on this specific subject. The connection, as I see it, is more general. The Kozol article is just the most dramatic description of the problem that Fryer studies that I've read in a long time.

I've only touched on the Dubner article in the Times. It discusses both Fryer's work and his life both of which are more than interesting enough to make the article a must-read.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wireless Nomad

Should I keep posting these? I mean really... Everyone reads BoingBoing, right?

Still, it's interesting and even a little exciting. The map to your left displays the coverage of a cooperative internet service provider in Toronto called Wireless Nomad. They provide a basic level of access for free and their paid residential program is $30.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Fixing the internets

Some time ago, I came across a blog called Hotel Bruce. It looked like it might have been interesting but I never found out. You see, it didn't have an RSS feed. Well, now it does:. Just don't tell Bruce.



My recent post on Fon, the Spanish peer-to-peer internet service provider, drew out a commenter who pointed out a similar project right here in Cleveland: Tremont Wifi. I've always wanted to know more about Tremont Wifi. How many homes have wifi access? What are their current plans? I couldn't get any of this information from the web site.

Prompted by that comment, I hunted done yet another similar project I'd seen a while back: Neighbornode. Neighbonode provides technical assistance to neighborhoods that want to provide community Wifi. Their website is unfortunately no more informative than the Tremont Wifi homepage. They seem to have established dozens of hotspots across the country but it's unclear whether they're currently growing or whether any of their neighborhoods consist of any more than a single hotspot.

Feature creep

Two more completely worthless features have been added to this blog. If you look to your right, you'll see that my sidebar now contains a record of the links that my visitors are following. Well, you might see it. You'll have to look carefully. It's small because I don't really have visitors.

The other feature is yet another testament to the popularity of Stuartblog2. Now posts show a record of how many other blogs are linking that specific item. If you're having trouble finding it, I recommend that you do a page search for "0".

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Share WIFI, build a WIFI Nation

Share WIFI, build a WIFI Nation :

There's a company in Spain that's creating a peer-to-peer internet service provider. To clarify, this is not P2P over existing internet service. Rather, it is an ISP whose bandwidth is partially provided by customers. This is a brilliant idea. I'm sure it's not original. I've been aware of it for some time and I can't believe that I came up with it on my own. Nonetheless, it's a brilliant idea and it makes you wonder if something is really going to come out of it. The entrepeneur in charge has a track record of success.

While this is a commercial venture, I wonder about the possibility of deploying this sort of service as a cooperative. Commercial or community, I'll tag this one "don't hold your breath." Verizon broadband costs $50/month. How much would this cost? A fraction, surely.


BBC NEWS | UK | Councils could seize empty homes

BBC NEWS | UK | Councils could seize empty homes: "He added: 'Poorly maintained empty properties are magnets for vandals, drug users, squatters and even arsonists.

'Bringing empty homes back into use reduces opportunities for low level anti-social behaviour.'"

That's a good enough reason but it's far from what I would consider the best reason. If you didn't like the recent supreme court decision regarding eminent domain then the thought of this happening in the United States may make your head explode. I think it deserves some real consideration.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Tangled Banks

I went to the Cleveland Blogger Meetup. Thanks, George, for organizing it. I enjoyed both the company and the food.

First, we briefly discussed the idea of tagging. I don't think anyone needs to wait for a standardized tagging system. Start using tags that mean something to you and organization will emerge. I don't think it will take very long for de facto standardization to emerge around the most useful tags. "Cleveland", for instance.

I think someone mentioned the idea of aggregating Cleveland blogs. I don't see the advantage of having one Cleveland feed. Subscribing to individual blogs in Bloglines is as easy as can be and gives me precise control over what gets my attention. For those who may still prefer a common feed, George added a feature to the sidebar of Brewed Fresh Daily: Recent NEO. Unfortunately, it's not subscribable and it only tells you who's updated but doesn't give a preview or even a title.

Since I'm using blogger I've got a limited selection of tools. Wordpress has a variety of plugins that make aggregating fairly easy but I've got to rely on the kindness of strangers who are willing to host a web service. With that in mind, here are some toys that I dug up over the past few days:

The Cleveland Zeitgeist is a tagcloud generated from about 20 Clevelandish feeds. Right now Cleveland (or, rather, the very small sample that I randomly chose) is interested in corned beef. And it wasn't even because of me. I created an aggregate feed of a different group of Clevelandish feeds: preview, rss. Here's another one with a different group of blogs: preview, rss. And here's a search that covers me, Brewed Fresh Daily, Callahan's Cleveland Diary, Democracy Guy, Cleveland Canvas and Tremonter:

I think the most interesting idea was the suggestion to have a roving review of the local blog community. (I'm still getting used to the word "blog". "Blogosphere" may take some time.)

I remember the original Carnival of the Vanities. It has no homepage but you can follow it at the founder's blog. And I wanted to follow the Tangled Bank but it slipped away. Now there are far too many to keep track of. There's an economics one that looks interesting.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

A toy for the Civic Innovation Lab

Ning is a very promising new project from Gina Bianchini and Marc Andreesen. Mr. Andreesen is credited with inventing the web. This is from the faq:
What is Ning?
Ning is a free online service (or, as we like to call it, a Playground) for people to build and run social applications. Social "apps" are web applications that enable anyone to match, transact, and communicate with other people.

Our goal with Ning is to see what happens when you open things up and make it easy to create, share, and discover new social apps. These might include for any city, your own take on Craigslist...for any passion, your own take on any interest, your own take on Zagat...for any event, your own take on Flickr...for any school, your own take on the Facebook...for any topic, your own take on any mammal, your own take on Hot or Not or Kitten War.

You choose the app, decide for whom it's most relevant, create the categories, define the features, choose the language - or just clone an app that's already up and running on Ning - and be on your way.
I hope Ning lives up to its potential. It's going to depend on developing a community of competent programmers who develop clone-worthy apps. It's not going to grow based on a community of people like me whose computer skills are taxed by finding "your city" and replacing it with "Cleveland". I went to Ning because I wanted to do a very specific thing. I wanted to clone some existing app, sprinkle in a little Ning-salt and a little Ning-paprika and end up with a prediction market for Cleveland themed propositions. It turns out that to do that, I still really need a working knowledge of computer programming.

I did end up with something though. In fact, I ended up with something far more interesting than what I ever could have imagined before Ning. It wasn't a prediction market. I guess you could call it an idea exchange. This is Ning's reality. Ning's potential is that smarter programmers continually contribute apps closer and closer to what I need until I can clone my beautiful market.

Do you think that the right sort of user will embrace Ning? What does Ning offer them that they don't have programming PHP applications on their own servers? (It's times like these when I wish my blog actually had readers.)

Creating a prediction market was an idea that I hadn't really thought through. I'm not sure now why I thought it would be interesting to anyone but me in the first place. Maybe it's for the best that I ended up with the idea exchange. If it's publicized and widely adopted there's a possibility it might be genuinely useful. Please allow me to introduce the Cleveland Idea Bank Web Posterboard.

There are several idea exchange sites and I don't really have in-depth experience with any of them. I'd be very interested in hearing some success stories. Has a cyber idea bank ever cultivated an idea that grew into a meatspace implementation?
Since Sliced Bread
Why Not?

Now I'm off to see see if I can't kludge together an prediction market. Isn't it enough that I'll be entertained?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Ingenuity for the other 361 days of the year

One of my primary disappointments with the Ingenuity Festival was that their was no organized way of discussing it. (Was there?) Art is more meaningful when we have an opportunity to see it from someone else's perspective. There needs to be a way for Ingenuity spectators to congregate and discuss the projects on display and more generally the topics of community, of art and of technology.

It would be relatively easy to create an ad hoc online community discussion.

I'm suggesting this de-centralized approach because it suits the way that I participate on the internet and I hope that it will be convenient for you, too. It's easy because it's just an extension of what I already do. I already store articles that I've read on furl. I already bookmark sites that I visit on I already post thoughts and ideas on my blog. Now when one of these activities is related to the Ingenuity Festival I can use a tag to associate the two and anyone can easily track and read everything. With coordinated tagging, you can have all of your thoughts, links and pictures automatically aggregated into the same pool and just as readily available to anyone who's interested. And just because I use blogspot,, furl and flickr doesn't mean that you can't participate with some other software. Let me know and we'll figure out how to integrate it.

I'll start by discussing some places where you might create your Ingenuity content and then I'll mention a couple easy ways to keep track of it - all of everyone's various sources in one place.

Cleveland bloggers should start tagging blog posts that discuss Ingenuity. Adding this snippet to your posts:
<a href="" rel="tag">ingenuityfestival</a>
will collect all blog posts that discuss the festival at this url:
More info about technorati tags.
and you can subscribe to it here:

If I see a project's web site that might be an inspiration for Ingeneers then I tag it with "ingenuitycleveland" on

If others tag likewise then the community's collection of links will be here:
And you can subscribe to it here:

I've also started an archive of documents that I think may provide some perspective on the Ingenuity Festival. These come in two distinct categories: 1)Blog posts that are explicitly related to the Cleveland Ingenuity Festival. (Incidentally, I hope the organizers know that the general reception for the festival was far less enthusiastic than the reviews in the local press.) 2)Articles about projects that may be inspirational.

My archive is here:

If you join furl and add your documents to the topic "ingenuitycleveland" all our saved items will be collected here:
And you can subscribe to it here:

If you took pictures at Ingenuity Festival 2005 hopefully you've already added them to the Ingenuity Cleveland pool on flickr. In any case, please consider tagging them with "ingenuitycleveland".
Subsription link:

Cyberspace is really convenient but the real world is fun. I know that there are Cleveland blogger meetups. This group would be a natural base for an Ingenuity meetup group. Next year we could have a meetup lunch or dinner on each day of festival. We could meet in one large or several small groups and share our insights into the meaning and significance of that days events. And all over a steaming bowl of noodle soup. I posted one very premature event announcement here just for the purpose of demonstration:

And now, as promised, an easy way to keep track of everything. I've created one blob rss feed of all these sources. Subscribe by clicking here:. If you're not into RSS yet, you can just bookmark that page and view the feed there.

This should be a good start to building a community that thinks about the Ingenuity Festival year-round. This de-centralized discussion might be augmented with a more traditional online community: a Yahoo! or Google group. I think a wiki might be a good idea.