“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”
Pema Chödrön

Damien Rice – Look at Me

n

… moved not only by the song itself but by the impeccable timing the universe delivered it to me:

the story behind it … and the full album:

 

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Why Aaron Died

n

“I believe Aaron’s death was caused by exhaustion, by fear, and by uncertainty. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a persecution and a prosecution that had already wound on for 2 years (what happened to our right to a speedy trial?) and had already drained all of his financial resources. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a criminal justice system that prioritizes power over mercy, vengeance over justice; a system that punishes innocent people for trying to prove their innocence instead of accepting plea deals that mark them as criminals in perpetuity; a system where incentives and power structures align for prosecutors to destroy the life of an innovator like Aaron in the pursuit of their own ambitions.

Ask yourself this: If on January 10, Steve Heymann and Carmen Ortiz at the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office had called Aaron’s lawyer and said they’d realized their mistake and that they were dropping all charges – or even for that matter that they were ready to offer a reasonable plea deal that wouldn’t have marked Aaron as a felon for the rest of his life – would Aaron have killed himself on January 11?”

source

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Portugal National Participatory Budget

n

“Portugal has announced the world’s first participatory budget on a national scale. The project will let people submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on which ideas are adopted.

… Proposals can be made in the areas of science, culture, agriculture and lifelong learning, and there will be more than forty events in the new year for people to present and discuss their ideas.

… The model began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, and has become popular around the world in recent years, with more than 1,500 places estimated to have adopted some variation. The largest by funding is in Paris. In 2016, only its third year, the scheme disbursed €100million (some $110million) and it plans to have spent €500million ($550million) by 2020.

… Portugal has allocated only €3million for this first year …”

source

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Targu Mures City Council

n

Due to efforts by local political activists there is, on the Targu Mures city council at least one councellor (if not three) who believes in transparency. He live streams the city council meetings with a mobile device and then makes the recording available online. The transcriptions of the meetings are also available in PDF files published on the municipality website. I don’t know what kind of engagement, if any, this creates with the populace. Do people watch these videos? Do they comment on them?

The live streaming is not welcomed by the other council members, they view is as threatening and would prefer it wasn’t there. Though I agree with the idea of trasparency, I felt that the way this “transparency” has been introduced is defiant and has a protesting quality to it.

I was wondering if there was a way to make the ripples of his efforts reach further. To reach further into the community of Targu Mures and to become an interesting experience for the other council members. This is what came to me. What if:

  1. Good Publishing: te council meeting was published in a more meaningful and accessible way. Instead of just dumping it online (in a video or transciption PDF) what if it was transformed into a list of Agenda Items. Each agenda item would be described briefly so tha citizens could review the list without having to wade through all the information. It could then be possible to go deeper into each agenda item:
    • Read a longer description about it.
    • Read the part of the transcription which relates to the agenda item.
    • View the part of the video which relates to theagenda item.
    • See the positions of each of the counselloers relating to it in the meeting.
    • Find links to other documents and resources which relate to the subject matter.
    • Link to other council meetings during which the agenda item was discussed.
  2. Agenda Rank Voting: every citizen could partake in a simple online voting interaction in relation to the agenda items that were discussed during a meeting – such as: rank the three most important agenda items for you and possible object to one agenda item.
  3. Councellor Voting: every citizen could partake in a simple online interaction  in relation to the contribution of councellor members during – such as: who was the most well spoken councellor? who was the most intellectually coherent councellor? who was the most compassionate councellor? who was the most ill-behaved / least contributing / disruptive councellor.
  4. Point Ranking: the voting would be integrated into a kind of ranking system. The more citizens vote, the more points there a on the table. Points would be distributed between councellors based on their own positions (as presented during the council meeting) on the agenda items. The result would be a ranking of councellors in each council meeting that reflected the degree to which they are in tune with and represents the positions of the citizens.
  5. Integrity Validation: voting would be cross-checked for internal integrity. If a citizen tried (for example for political reasons) to give a councellor a vote for intellectual integrity, but her top 3 ranked agenda items do not align with the position of the councellor … then her vote would be flagged for integrity and that would be included in the point score algorithm.

Such a participatory environment could be further enhanced in different directions:

  1. Accumulated and publicly available councellor rankings may become some kind of reerence for councellor performance and social status. If it offers substantial content (such as a thorough record of public discourse) it may be adopted and refernced in mainstream media.
  2. Such public exposure may incentivize councellors to seek better ranking, to become more attentive to public opinion and to relate to it differently.
  3. Councellors, who are less political and more passionate about actual good governance,  may want to have a platform where they can better express their independent positions.
  4. Expanding the “agenda items” into a public platform where citizens could continue to discuss, together with experts and politicians, agenda items.
  5. A question might arise about how agenda items are set in the first place? What if the citizens could not only respond and comment on a predetermined council agenda, but there could be a social process during which the agenda is continuously discussed and created through social participation.
  6. Citizens may become better informed. about the workings of the city council.
  7. Citizen groups may form to discuss and develop agreed positions on agenda items.
  8. Activist may become better informed and able to interact with the populace.
  9. Alternate opinion leaders may emerge through a participatory process. A citizen who consistently votes and comments and contributed to an agenda item may gain actual political capital in the community. Citizens may gain some of ranking … not unlike repeat reviewers on Amazon.
  10. Councellors may discover that trasparency is not there enemy. That knowing the populace better may be helpful in governing. Ultimately, they may come to recognize that governing on behalf of their community is better then trying to manipulate and control their community behind hidden doors.

The foot in the door that was created into the Targu Mures city council can be an opening to a more meaningful and constructive public discourse in which representative may learn to better represent and citizens may learn to better participate in shaping governance and their society.

 

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On Intelligence – Human and Artificial

n

In some ways I feel that we have barely tapped into human intelligence (an experience that can go way beyond the narrow field of intellectual comprehension), yet it seems that the progress we have made, as expressed in AI, may undermine the possibility for many people to continue to evolve their human intelligence.

“… artificial intelligence opens a new world of image, audio, and video fakery …

… Another obvious beneficiary would be hoaxes. Consider the video below — a demonstration of a program called Face2Face, which essentially turns people into puppets, letting you map their facial expression to your own. The researchers demonstrate it using footage of Trump and Obama. Now combine that with prototype software recently unveiled by Adobe that lets you edit human speech (the company says it could be used for fixing voiceovers and dialog in films). Then you can create video footage of politicians, celebrities, saying, well, whatever you want them, too. Post your clip on any moderately popular Facebook page, and watch it spread around the internet.

… we can’t deny that digital tools will allow more people to create these sorts of fakes … AI-powered fakes and manipulations aren’t hard to spot now … but researchers say they’re just going to get better and better.”

The proliferation of realistic fakes would be a boon to conspiracy theorists, and would contribute to the current climate of deteriorating confidence in journalism.”

source

This article I read a couple of weeks ago makes this even more poignant … the software engineers who create and train deep neural networks do not know how they actually work and make decisions. The neural networks, it seems, can only be indirectly affected and tweaked … by intuition …  are scientists pushing themselves off the edge of reason? Even at this early stage we do not have “control” over these creations:

“Yesterday, the 46-year-old Google veteran who oversees the company’s search engine, Amit Singhal, announced his retirement. And in short order, Google revealed that Singhal’s rather enormous shoes would be filled by a man named John Giannandrea.

Giannandrea, you see, oversees Google’s work in artificial intelligence … Early in 2015 … Google began rolling out a deep learning system called RankBrain that helps generate responses to search queries.

… Singhal carried a philosophical bias against machine learning. With machine learning, he wrote, the trouble was that “it’s hard to explain and ascertain why a particular search result ranks more highly than another result for a given query.” And, he added: “It’s difficult to directly tweak a machine learning-based system to boost the importance of certain signals over others.”

… in order to tweak the behavior of these neural nets, you must adjust the math through intuition, trial, and error. You must retrain them on new data, with still more trial and error.”

and if you got this far and would like to go a bit deeper … this up-to-date primer on artificial intelligence.

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Three Languages You Need to Take a Project from Dreams to Reality

n

A generally good reminder about speaking from and to context:

“… By distinguishing these languages and the needs that they serve, certain kinds of confusion may be avoided.

The Inward language is the way that those at the heart of a project make sense of what they are doing, the way of seeing the world that makes it possible. It may be a complex model of how things are and how they could be; it may be entirely intuitive and largely unspoken. It is a creative, living language. Over time, it comes to include the shorthand expressions and the charged words that build up among a group of people working together to bring about or sustain something that matters to them deeply.

The Upward language is the language of power and resources: the language of funding applications, the language of those who are in a position to intepret regulations and impose or remove obstacles. It is not a reflective or a curious language, it is a language of busy people who make decisions without having time to immerse themselves in the realities their decisions will affect. It is an impoverished language and when you have to describe what you are doing in its terms, you will feel that something is missing. You need a guide who is initiated into the relevant version of this language, who knows which words currently act as keys to which doors, what you have to say to have a decent chance of the gatekeepers letting you through. Yet even inside these institutions, you are dealing with human beings, so if you can allow glimpses of what matters about your project to show through the filter of keywords, it may just make a difference.

The Outward language is the language in which people who meet your project at ground level, in the course of their everyday lives, start to talk about it. It’s the language in which you can explain it to your mum, or to someone you just met in the pub, and realise that they get it — not that they have understood everything about what you’re doing, but that something here makes sense and sounds good. This is not about how your project works, it’s about what it does. In the corporate world, money is spent on people who are good at spinning words to create an Outward language for a product or a service or an organisation — much of advertising and public relations is about this — but the results usually have a synthetic aftertaste. You may get advice to try to imitate these publicity processes, but this is probably best ignored.”

 

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Software is Politics

n

Richard Pope, formerly of the UK GDS project, writes in Software is Politics:

“It’s time to stop designing digital services to just be easy to use and start designing them to be understandable, accountable, trusted, and easy to use.

1. Accountability at the point of use

Imagine if Uber made it clear exactly how much a driver earned and whether it met a living wage, directly on the email receipt …

2. Expose the rules

One obvious way is to examine the source code directly. The U.K. government increasingly opens its code …

3. Reimagine permissions

In a government context, that would mean explaining to users exactly what their data is being used for in a way that is understood …

4. Digital tools for digital consumer rights

For users to really trust stuff in the digital world, they need trusted third parties to do some of the hard work for them. And this means giving elbow room to some new digital watchdogs.”

 

 

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What design sprints are good for

n

Though I have never participated in a week-long design spring I resonate with the ideas of this post.

“Design sprints offer an apparently straightforward value proposition: get from idea to insight while skipping build and launch. High impact, risk reduction, and learning at minimal cost — all perfectly aligned with current trends …

Particularly for stakeholders who see design as all downstream aesthetics, a sprint demonstrates that design decisions run all the way through a product, like mould in a good cheese … If your sprint goes really well, your client will spiral into existential crisis about the difference between design and product management …

By the end of the week, you may all be convinced the project doesn’t have legs. Usually no one will say so on the spot, so as not to repudiate a tough week, but if the week’s primary outcome is to shitcan the project, that’s great …

Sorry. Even though you have to select tight boundaries for your prototype, you’re still going way too fast for considered design … A sprint is the opening gambit of a long, complex game — a tool of provocation, not delivery.

… The design sprint doesn’t really shine a light on more sophisticated research methods, and nor is it meant to.

… Don’t expect to learn much about market sizing or segmentation, customers’ propensity to pay, business model viability, or your propositional appeal against competitors … Proper market research this is not.

… The only acceptable approval decision after a design sprint alone is “Let’s not do this project”.”

I believe the broade subject hinted at in this post is how does a design-spring serve a wider product-making process. When such processes have holes and unmet expectations in them, stakeholders can pile-up incorrect expectations on processes/people/tools.

These days I am more interested in the activist/civic space and less in the corporate space. A popular pattern in this space seems to be the hackathon – a sprint of code writing. I am amazed that anyone believes that something substantial can be built in this way.

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Sharing Economy in Amsterdam

n

“Amsterdam has developed an Airbnb for city-owned offices, so residents can use them for free, and may do the same with municipal cars and tools.

… To avoid damaging the market for companies that provide office space, the project is available only to organisations that are working for a social purpose.

… Some of the groundwork for sharing the city’s car fleet has also already been done. So that people don’t need to pick up keys and vehicles from some particular garage, the city has converted its cars so they can be opened with a smartphone. The technology came from a local start-up called We Go, which also means the cars are tracked and can be parked anywhere. The scheme has been running for a year for municipal employees.”

source

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Asana Practice – December 2016 (Before Review)

n

My current practice is:

ronen_asana_practice_december_2016

Some comments on asana:

  1. I forgot to note on the page that the practice begins with kapalabhati 20br + 30 br
  2. The repeated langhana pattern (3, 4, 16)  of midrange and micromovements was gradually introduced to introduce a sense of containment. During summer I found especially during the first part of the practice my mind was jumpy … and this pattern helped in collecting myself.
  3. The most prominent theme I have been exploring is softness. It is an extensive and subtle exploration … and I am not, at this time, interested in writing about it.
  4. During the recovery practice period I replaced maha mudra with janu sirsasana – I was not able to support a quality stay in maha-mudra. In the last 4 weeks I have re-introduced maha-mudra. I have left in janu sirsasana as I feel it is still supporting opening of the hips and is a good preparation for maha mudra. I may phase out janu-sirsasana in the coming weeks.
  5. I have been through of waves of distraction and regular practice and I feel I am the end of a cycle fo recovery … so finding my way back to a core stability I had not felt for some time. The length and quality of breath has been recovered. Most of the stiffness that built up in my shoulders and hips has softened.
  6. I have not explored the alternate practice path with shoulder-stand and lying back-bends.
  7. I feel physically strong, emotionally vulnerable, energetically stable. In recent weeks I have not been sleeping well.
  8. I have resume some semi-regular software development … and I do feel its disturbance.

In Pranayama I have only recently transitioned from an Anuloma practice to Pratiloma. I was practicing an Anuloma with a base ratio of 10.0.15.0 x6br. I attempted a direct transition to Pratiloma but that was too much and exhausted me (it involved a transition of both technique and an increase in number of breaths from 6 to 8). I started a path of transition by gradually building up to 8 breaths in anuloma. But then I decided to shift down to an 8.0.12.0 ratio so that I could access the more subtle quality of Pratiloma. I am now settling well in Pratiloma and hope to resume the path Paul outlined for me last spring.

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On Choice and Constraint

n

An excerpt from Off Our Butts

“Now, in 2016, cigarette smoking in North America is indeed more common among people living in poverty. They smoke because they do not have the time or money to eat properly, because other, more respectable mind-altering drugs are not available to them, because it is something to enjoy. They do it because their jobs (when they still exist) are so boring and physically painful that they would rather die. Yet professionals in the wellness industry routinely describe their smoking social inferiors as “stupid” and “irrational” on the basis of their supposedly self-undermining lifestyle choices.

It’s by now an iron law that whenever the poor are discussed, so are their “bad life choices.” If professionals can’t do something properly or fast enough, they can readily avail themselves of a diagnosis of one or another “health problem”—even something as vague and generic as “stress” or “burnout.” These are conditions that are imagined to have stricken them randomly—as opposed to a malignant, self-inflicted malady tied to their lifestyle, upbringing, or that sketchy antidepressant they stupidly decided to take. Even though so many children of the professional class clearly have asthma due in part to the persistent bourgeois hygiene neurosis (the antibacterial hand gel all but mandated by this neurosis being a proven contributing factor), they and their germophobe parents deserve empathy, time off, and specific disability rights. By contrast, working-class smokers deserve only reproach and are asked to tiptoe around the expansive, socio-moral and self-induced sensitivities of the rich.

Once, at an Occupy Wall Street assembly, standing six feet beyond the last concentric circle in the parking lot, I lit up a cigarette. In short order, I was asked to leave. I insisted on Occupying.

Like them, we shall pursue our own desires for pleasure no matter how whimsical, and if our desire is to smoke, then offended professionals can just hold their breath for once—perhaps using this blessed interval of silence to meditate on their thieving class and its own grotesquely swollen “carbon footprint.” If state and capital are going to steal our precious energies and vast hours of our lives to line their pockets with profit, leaving us with poor sleep, insufficient rent money, and a diet of 7-Eleven specials as we provide the country’s most basic services, the very least we deserve is to enjoy our cigarettes in peace. So if anyone asks, it’s not that smoking should be permitted because cigarettes can be proved an absolute good, which they cannot, but simply because for the time being we happen to smoke them. We might call this giving professionals a taste of their own entitlement. Heaven forbid they choke on it.”

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Wintergatan

n

You may enjoy following my journey of discovery, or you may want to skip to the last video … but don’t miss the last video.

I started here:

then the wheel:

and arrived here:

and with a feeling of sweetness I thought I was done and … well… then this:

“Thank you for that! But I do think, though, that it is mostly about being able to put in the time! I mean the talent of being stubborn and able to see things through are more important than the abilities you have to start with. If you work hard on anything, you will learn what you need and success!”

… and there’s more … seek and ye shall find 🙂

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Douglas Rushkoff at SXSW 2016

n

I have been following Douglas Rushkoff since his launch of the TeamHuman podcast. I recommend it very much. This talk is a good introduction to his work.

The main thing I like about him is that he builds a good bridge between two worlds that in my existence seem separate. The people in my life can be clearly divided into two camps:

  1. One is the “mainstream people” which includes people who live a mainstream life and people who are aware that there are other avenues, but do not pursue it … so still living embedded in mainstream society. When I can and there is an interest I try to give these people a glimpse of the other alternative world I am exploring.
  2. The other group are the “alternative people” who are partners in the exploration-into-an-unknown  I find myself living in. Some of these people are also comfortably embedded in this alternative world that they are sometimes less informed about the happenings of the mainstream world.

Douglas Rushkoff, I feel, does an excellent job of bridging these worlds. He is able to describe both the mainstream world and the alternatives in a coherent, sensible and continuous narrative that makes it accessible to both of “my worlds”. With that in mind I offer this excellent talk to both of “my worlds”:

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Vata in Software

n

Though I have moved away from the more hard-core environment of software development I still enjoyed this talk very much. It talks about something which can look inconsequential – software versions and its effect on software creation. The subject, though technical, is framed in this talk as a matter of relationship amongst developers.

There are very few people with whom I can chat about the two worlds of Yoga and Software (because very few people that I know have / had a foot in both worlds). What shimmered for me in this talk is the quality of vata (shity and volatile energy) which I feel is so much a part of software development. It is mostly my wish to stay healthy while respecting my own energy patterns that keeps me away from writing code. This talk sheds some light on the vata nature of software.

The presenter is Rich Hickley who is the founder of a programming paradigm language called Clojure:

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Charles Eisenstein In Conversation with Rupert Sheldrake

n

An inspiring listen … feed your soul with some heart-flavored meta-science:

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Thank you Ramona, Attila, Raluca and Derek for Nyeleni

n

It doesn’t seem like I’ll be writing in depth about my experience at the Nyeleni Europe conference. I have much to say, but I am not motivated to say it … and this post from another participant does a good job of touching on some (not all) of the subjects that resonated inside me.

However, one thing has persisted in me … and I do want to express my gratitude to Ramona, Attila, Raluca and Derek and the interns of EcoRuralis who together with the volunteers that surrounded them made it possible for me to partake in and witness such an event. This was possible for me because 1) the event was held here in Cluj (I would not have travelled for it) and 2) they invited me to be part of the Romanian delegation.

I do not consider myself an activist and I am always grateful for the inclusiveness and embrace I feel from the EcoRuralis team, both personally and in the context of Cutia Taranului. This feeling was with me from first meeting them almost 6 years ago (by randomly walking into their office) and was amplified against the backdrop of the Nyeleni conference. The voice of Nyeleni, as it manifested in this conference, was one of extreme, loud and painfully aggressive activism. It made me appreciate the qualities of moderation, reason and humility of the EcoRuralis team. Encountering them personally during the event created small islands of sanity.

Given that I live in semi-retreat, for me the event was a precious opportunity to witness what activism in Europe looks like (at least around food sovereignity). It was inspiring to see so many people come together around a shared interest, especially given the efforts that I imagine went into everyone converging on Cluj together. It was inspiring to know that this subject is in the consciousness of so many people across Europe (and beyond). It was impressive to realize the large populace that was represented in this forum … given that almost every person present at the conference represented anywhere from tens to thousands (and more!?) of people in their repective countries and communities. It was impressive to sense how a basic need like food can cut through cultural differences and become a shared and uniting thread.

It was also impressive (though in a different tone) to see the ease with which failed constructs in our current governing structures are subtly replicated in activist circles that want to introduce change. I feel we have much to learn and practice in coming and being together before we can take on complicated subjects such as food sovereignity. I do not feel “we” have earned the right to use that word “we” as obviously as some may want to. To make this point more concrete I want to give this small, recent and concrete example.

In the weeks following the event we were contacted by the Crisan family who have since joined Cutia Taranului with a special (sold out) Christmas box and a few variants of meat boxes that will start to be delivered in January. Their farm has been shrinking and collapsing (and they’ve had to take on office jobs for income) because they haven’t been able to market their produce … hopefully that will change now. Both we as Cutia Taranului (who are looking for local producers to bring to market) and the Crisan family (a producer that was looking to find a market) are members of EcoRuralis and yet we did not find each other and connect.

If we did not connect and come together when we were so near and so relevant to each other within a clear and shared context, how can we expect to collaborate on larger (national, European, or international) scales? I do not say this with a sense of blame. I offer it as a sobering observation (firstly to myself), a reality check to what I felt was an illusory sense of community that was conjured up at Nyeleni. I recognize and appreciate that we want to be community, but a group of people shouting demands together with fists in the air does not create community (its sad and scary).

YET … the fact that I was able to travel to the city for 5 consecutive days and be around more then 500 other people was a good sign. It told me that beneath the superficial manifestations lay something potent and valuable. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been there and to have witnessed it. Now, on with connecting producers and eaters … and hopefully a warm winter next to the rocket stove 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Government as a Platform

n

This may seem slightly off-topic, but for me there is some valuable cross-over of ideas and domains that do relate to Oameni.

This is a presentation by Tom Loosemore about his work in the UK Government Digital Strategy during the 2015 Code for America summit. In it he describes an architectural view of a government that harnesses digital technology.

My main reflection during and after it was:

  1. Can something like this be built from the groundup – grassroots style. Given that governments are not likely to get there very soon, is this not something that civil society can create for itself and then provide to the government as a tool of governance?
  2. Can something like this be built with a view that goes beyond the national … I’m thinking as a planetary platform?
  3. Can something like this be built as open-source packages that can be instantiated many times in many countries / contexts? After all if something like this is good for one country or city, then it must be good for other countries / cities. Can we, as a species, be smart and efficient about how we go about creating this? Can “creating a government infrastructure” strive to be as simple as creating a WordPress site?

Some thoughts I wanted to capture from this presentation:

“New public infrastructure requires new public institutions.”

The guidelines within which this vision was developed:

“The public has expectations:

  1. Services so good they were previously unimaginable.
  2. Services which work first time in real time.
  3. New services set up in weeks, and run at fraction of today’s cost.
  4. Ministers can see if their policy is working as intended within days or weeks, not decades.
  5. Those on the front line can focus their effort on supporting those who need help the most.
  6. Fraud to be “designed out”; Security to be “baked in”; Defences against both evolve to meet emerging threats.
  7. Services to be highly responsive to feedback from their users.
  8. Accountability should be crystal clear & people able to give instant democractic feedback.
  9. Services should only use “just enough” personal data; The citizen should be in control of how and when their data is accessed.
  10. Open public data is canonical, infrastructural, and immutable; Services use open standards and create open standards.
  11. Services should gracefully span local, central and devolved governments … provided the user consents.
  12. Policies and rules that are visible as code, and you can validate them as a citizen.
  13. Everything is available through an API for 3rd party use … provided the user grants permission, and it’s secure.”

And this architectural view which is explained in the presentations:

governmentasplatform

Also worth checking out these Design Principles

Keep tabs on Richard Pope and James Stewart

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Back to Her Man

n

Damien Rice homage to Leonard Cohen

 

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The American Dream!?

n

This powerful piece about the Unnecessariat describing an out-of-view America and explaining how Trump happened. I was surprised, given that I come from a different background and reality to find that I resonated with this part:

“To know that nothing more is expected of you, or your children, or of your children’s children, than to fade away quietly”

I have written before about how, during my last years living in Israel, the conversation about lack of money in my life transformed into a lack of relevancy. I became more concerned with not being relevant or needed in my society, then about not being able to extract money from it. I came to Romania to create space between myself and that question … to gain perspective. I found some relevancy here … it is both precious and fragile.

“… The number of overdoses in 2014? 47,055 of which at least 29,467 are attributable to opiates … families are being “hollowed out” with elders raising grandchildren, the intervening generation lost before their time … neighborhoods are collapsing into the demands of dying, or of caring for the dying.

Suicide is up as well. The two go together: some people commit suicide by overdose, and conversely addiction is a miserable experience that leads many addicts to end it rather than continue to be the people they recognize they’ve become to family and friends … Both suicide and addiction speak to a larger question of despair. Despair, loneliness, and a search, either temporarily or permanently, for a way out.

… Its no secret that I live right smack in the middle of all this, in the rusted-out part of the American midwest. My county is on both maps: rural, broke, disconsolated. Before it was heroin it was oxycontin, and before it was oxycontin it was meth. Death, and overdose death in particular, are how things go here.

And yet this isn’t seen as a crisis, except by statisticians and public health workers.

… In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile … The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include … unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

… Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary.

… Utopians on the coasts occasionally feel obliged to dream up some scheme whereby the unnecessariat become useful again, but its crap and nobody ever holds them to it … what if Sanders (or your political savior of choice) had won? Would that fix the Ohio river valley? Would it bring back Youngstown Sheet and Tube, or something comparable that could pay off a mortgage? Would it end the drug game in Appalachia, New England, and the Great Plains? Would it call back the economic viability of small farms in Illinois, of ranching in Oklahoma and Kansas? Would it make a hardware store viable again in Iowa, or a bookstore in Nevada? Who even bothers to pretend anymore?

Well, I suppose you might. You’re probably reading this thinking: “I wouldn’t live like that.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t overdose” or “I wouldn’t try heroin,” … This isn’t the first time someone’s felt this way about the dying. In fact, many of the unnecessariat agree with you and blame themselves- that’s why they’re shooting drugs and not dynamiting the Google Barge … You’ll get there too.

If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: county by county, where life expectancy is dropping survivors are voting for Trump.

What does it mean, to see the world’s narrative retreat into the distance? To know that nothing more is expected of you, or your children, or of your children’s children, than to fade away quietly and let some other heroes take their place? One thing it means is: if someone says something about it publicly, you’re sure as hell going to perk up and listen.”

via Sam Muirhead

 

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Practice Reflection – Fall 2016

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This reflection is long overdue … but my writing motivation is still low and my ability to do so fragile … I hope I can recall some of the subtleties that appeared along the way.

Relationship with Practice

My allergy period this year ended somewhere around mid-July. It lasted slightly less then two months. It was overall easier, but I don’t feel it was due to internal circumstances. I do feel that is mostly due to numerous early frosts that destroyed much of the spring flowers which resulted in less pollen in the air.

I tried, during the allergy period, to stay in touch with practice but it was a futile attempt. With breathing at the heart of practice and my breathing severely compromised practice is difficult to access. Attempting to stay with it formed an additional layer of aggravation due to the instability of practice itself. Letting practice go was a practical decision, not a deeply conscious one.

However at one point I realized that I lost not just the practice but also the wanting to practice. That brought with it a subtle anxiety. One of the things I experienced in the period of practice prior to the allergy period was that the practice was somehow embracing, holding me. I had a very stable period of practice that came with little effort. Now that was gone, and I was afraid that it wouldn’t come back. My fear was “confirmed” when my allergy got slightly better and I tried to get on the mat (maybe too soon) and again met heaviness, friction and instability. Once I WAS able to practice, I, to my surprise and relief, fell quickly back into the embrace of practice.

Breath First

When I resumed practice I resumed the same practice I was doing before the allergy period … and physically it was fine. But when it came to my pranayama, I was exhausted and could not tap into my breathing capacity.

So I started an experiment, that to some extent, is still ongoing. I starting tuning my practice into a more cikitsa version. It took a few days of transformations .. and with every transformation (reduction and softening) in the asana sequence I found a growing space for re-inhabiting my breath. Over a few days the breath developed: just ujjayi breathing allowing the breath to expand, re-introducing holds, resuming pratiloma with less holds and less repeats and within a few days I was back to my full pratiloma practice.

Over the first month of steady practice I got reestablished in the breath and gradually re-introduced modifications that brought me closer to my full asana practice. At that point I started to feel a sense of vitality again. I experienced a feeling of lightness in my practice. I distinctly recall the feeling of coming up from various forward bends with a sense of a strong center and a lighter body … as if I was lifting up less weight … a lighter version of me.

Energy and Core

At least a couple of times during this period where I had a distinct experiences of energy in my core (abdominal area) as a foundation for … well … almost everything I am and do with my body.

A prominent experience was while working on the earthbag cellar. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out (I was in a healing cycle), but the weather was nice and I wanted to give it a try. I attempted to lift something (with some substantial weight, bot not too heavy, and not something I hadn’t lifted many times before) … and it required much more effort than usual.

As I observed this and a some following movements I realized that I felt weak in my center. I wasn’t able to activate my abdominal muscles. I didn’t have a feeling of grounded center from which I could move, extend or leverage. I rely mostly on my center for strength and stability, I am not a very athletic or physically large or strong. With the center gone, I had to rely on my peripheral muscles … and that gets tiring fast. And even though I can get away with it for a while, the quality of movement is lesser … less precise, less reliable, less stable, less enjoyable. Within a couple of minutes I realized, acknowledged and communicated that I was not up for working.

The initial experience of lack of core energy became a fascinating reference point for experiencing its recovery. I could witness, almost every day, a slight improvement. It is in everything … in standing and walking … in a sense of stability … vitality. I witnessed life and strength return to my abdominal area. The change was so drastic that it was clearly not a biological change. I don’t think it was (is)possible for me lose or gain muscle mass or flexibility in such a short period of time. It felt much more like an energetic shift.

It was refreshing and empowering to go back out after a few days and feel … centered and vital again. Losing it was an invaluable experience to appreciating it.

Life Again (… and again)

I have taken up this post after another few weeks of delay since I wrote the initial part … and that is the essence of “life again”. This has not been a period of “life throws things at me” but rather me inviting things into my life. The overall experience has been a sense of depletion. But not deep depletion. Rather cycles of depletion during which I take something in and incorporating it, digesting it, consumes enough of my energy to leave me in a disturbed state. A state I felt a need to recover from … sometimes with clear physical signs of illness, sometimes with only subtle physical signs, sometimes with an emotional fuzziness … in all cases reduced clarity.

I am now exiting a period of sickness . Together with the intensive 5 day event (Nyeleni) which I attended, that may become another three week period without on-the-mat practice. Though my energy may support a soft practice, my breathing (blocked, broken and limited) does not leave me space for an engaging practice. Attempting to practice in this way creates more friction then flow.

I am also heading (hopefully!) into a period with few distractions. I feel a turning inwards as winter sets in. Starting to settle into a raily routine with more time indoors, regular lighting and feeding of the stoves. I am looking forward to reconnecting with a regular and inward moving practice.

 

 

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