Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How does a city work?

An interesting article from Government Computer News about the use of analytic software to discover the relationships between a city's core information systems that handle the economy, housing, education, public safety. The aim is to help planners make better policy decisions.

How does public transportation affect education? What impact does population density have on public health? Is there a connection between CO2 levels and obesity?

Officials in the City of Portland, Ore., have collaborated with IBM to find answers to those and other questions, developing an interactive model that connects the relationships between the city’s core systems that handle the economy, housing, education, public safety, transportation and health care.

The computer simulation lets Portland’s leaders see how city systems work together, how environmental and other factors relate to each other and project the likely results of actions under consideration.

For full story click on link above.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Peace Be Unto You, Brother Gil

Poet, musician, novelist, cultural revolutionary, social activist, visionary: all pieces of the man, Gil Scott-Heron, age 62, who joined the ancestors Friday, May 27, 2011.

I first learned about Gil’s death Saturday morning from a posting on a friend’s Facebook wall. Throughout the day, friends posted their favorite Gil Scott-Heron songs and commented on his musical genius. There seemed to be a consensus that Gil Scott-Heron wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. Gil gave a voice to the black struggle for freedom and equality here in America. His concerns were global, though, for he spoke out against injustices at home and abroad.

Some of the songs, words from songs or comments about favorites posted this past weekend included: “The Bottle” and “Angel Dust,” songs about the perils of alcohol and drug addiction; “Lady Day and Coltrane,” which celebrates the artistry of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane; “Your Daddy Loves You,“ a father’s song to his daughter; “We Almost Lost Detroit,” which addresses the possibility of nuclear meltdown; and one of my favorites, “Winter in America.” According to obituaries in the mainstream press, Gil Scott-Heron was best known for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” listed by The New Statesman as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs”.

Gil had help. Many of the songs written in the 1970s were the result of collaborations with Brian Jackson, keyboardist, flautist, singer, composer, and producer. Jackson, known as “Stickman,” is prominently featured on the Rhodes electric piano and flute in many compositions such as “The Bottle" and "Rivers of My Fathers."

And then there was the eight-piece Midnight Band, featured on the first Scott-Heron album I bought, “Midnight Band: The First Minute of a New Day.” It was 1975 and I was a senior in high school. Most likely, I had heard songs from the album on the Connecticut College Radio station or was impressed by the gorilla sitting in a wicker chair on the album cover, clock behind him set at a quarter to midnight. On the back cover, the gorilla was an urban “guerilla” sporting commando fatigues, ammunition belt with a grenade in the belt buckle, machine gun in his left hand, a joint in his right. As he prowled some ghetto alley, a half- moon shining in the night sky, a clock on a building in the background was set at midnight.

Songs on the jazz-blues-rhythm and blues-spoken word fusion dealt with liberation, revolution, oppression, environmental injustices and spirituality. Rain as a metaphor for cleansing and helping to usher in change and a new world was a thread that ran through most of the songs including my favorite, “Winter in America.”

I recall a friend of mine spending much too long in a phone booth (remember them?) talking to his girlfriend and passing off the lyrics from the songs written in the album cover as his own. She was impressed by his wisdom and words, he told me later.

Pieces of a Man. Like all men, Scott-Heron had his struggles, contradictions. How could someone who spoke so eloquently about the perils of substance addiction fall into hard drug use in his later years? I’d asked myself upon hearing of his travails with cocaine, which lead to jail time on Rikers' Island in New York as recently as 2006. It was as though he became the junkie in his 1970s song “Home Is Where The Hatred Is.” “You keep saying, kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it, but have you tried? It might not be such a bad idea, if I never come home again, home again.”

Gil came home to the recording studio, releasing a new album, “I’m New Here” and embarking on a tour last year. “People keep saying I disappeared. "Well, that's a gift I didn't know I had,” Scott-Heron told writer Sean O’Hagan, who interviewed him for an article, Gil Scott-Heron: the godfather of rap comes back, which appeared in the U.K-based Observer in February 2010.

No, he didn’t disappear. He was still performing, Gil said. And his music of the 70s and 80s inspired a whole new generation of musicians, spoken word and hip hop artists. I suspect Gil Scott-Heron’s work will continue to inspire future generations of artists.

Peace Be Unto You, Brother Gil.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let Freedom Ring and Ring and Ring

So, Super Bowl XLV is set for this Sunday in Arlington, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

Two National Football League teams with storied histories – The Pittsburgh Steelers and The Green Bay Packers – will battle for the right to take home The Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Many folks today might not know how much modern day sports teams in southern cities --which segregated Whites and Blacks and other people of color – owe to the civil rights movement. The 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement uplifted the southern economy just as much as it liberated African Americans, Taylor Branch, author of a trilogy of books on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in a recent radio interview on WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington, D.C.

Southern officials were putting so much “psychological energy” into keeping people of different races separated that these cities couldn’t have professional sports teams. It wasn’t until segregation laws started to crumble that we saw the rise of the Miami Dolphins in football or The Atlanta Braves baseball team, both established in 1966.

Branch also pointed out how non-violent, civil disobedience aspects of the American civil rights movement were adopted by people fighting for civil and human rights in Ireland and Poland in the 1980s.

Now we’ve seen in recent weeks the cry for freedom, human dignity and democracy spreading throughout the Middle East – described by some as the “jasmine” revolution -- sparked by the uprising in Tunisia, which quickly spread to Egypt, Jordan and Yemen.

Dissent and organized protests have escalated over the past decade in Egypt. Technology, the Internet and social media -- today’s method of mass communication -- has helped organizers spread the message.

Young people armed with their idealism, energy and fearlessness have led the charge. However, the anti-government demonstrators represent a diverse coalition of Egyptian society including Muslims, Christians and secularists. Two million strong stood against President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and there were extraordinary turnouts in other cities such as Alexandria.

“We are in the streets every day, people, children, old people, including myself. I am now 80 years of age, suffering of this regime for half a century,” Nawal El Saadawi, a well-known feminist, psychologist, writer and former political prisoner in Egypt, told DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman via telephone from Cairo last week. Later in the week, after President Mubarak said he would not seek re-election after 30 years of rule but would not resign, a force of pro-government demonstrators was violently unleashed on the peaceful protestors in an attempt to force them out of Tahrir Square. Even though violent pro-Mubarak forces attacked journalists and anti-government protestors, the pro-Democracy protestors still hold their ground.

The cry for freedom has been heard by the leaders of Jordan, where King Abdullah II disbanded parliament, and Yemen, where to stave off unrest President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed he will not seek reelection in 2013 after 32 years in power nor anoint his son as successor.

The Middle East and North Africa face some uncertain, difficult times ahead. But it is clear after the uprisings of the past month; things can’t be as they were.

Let freedom ring and ring and ring.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Innovations to make cities smarter

Buildings that know when they need to be fixed before something breaks. Smart water and sewage systems that can filter and recycle water. Sensors that give fire departments details of a fire before they receive the emergency phone call.

Sounds futuristic?

These are some of the predictions IBM researchers say will make cities smarter over the next five years.

An estimated 60 million people around the world live in cities and experts predict population in the world's cities will double by 2050. As populations grow, city leaders are looking for ways to improve life in cities as they face massive urbanization and demands on their infrastructure.

IBM's annual "5 in 5 " lists 5 innovations that will change the way we work, live and play in cities.

  • Cities will have healthier immune systems - Given population density, cities remain hotbeds of communicable diseases. But in the future, public health officials will know precisely when, where and how diseases are spreading – even which neighborhoods will be affected next.
  • City buildings will sense and respond like living organisms - In the future, the technology that manages facilities will operate like a living organism that can sense and respond quickly, in order to protect citizens, save resources and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Cars and city buses will run on empty - Vehicles will begin to run on new battery technology that won’t need to be recharged for days or months at a time, depending on how often you drive. Smart grids in cities could enable cars to be charged in public places and use renewable energy, such as wind power, for charging so they no longer rely on coal-powered plants.
  • Smarter systems will quench cities’ thirst for water and save energy - Cities will install smarter water systems to reduce water waste by up to 50 percent. Cities also will install smart sewer systems that not only prevent run-off pollution in rivers and lakes, but purify water to make it drinkable. Advanced water purification technologies will help cities recycle and reuse water locally, reducing energy used to transport water by up to 20 percent.
  • Cities will respond to a crisis -- even before receiving an emergency phone call - Cities will be able to predict emergencies in order to reduce and prevent them. Law enforcement agencies already use IBM software to analyze the right information at the right time, so that police and other law enforcement personnel can take proactive measures to head off crime. Sounds like that movie Minority Report.
IBM has posted a blog and accompanying YouTube video, that offers further insights about the innovations coming our way. I've also written a story about the innovations.

Monday, November 2, 2009

CIA invests in social media monitoring software

Could your blogs and tweets eventually be monitored by the CIA? An interesting article by "Wired" magazine's Noah Shactman, U.S. Spies Buy Stake in Firm That Monitors Blogs, Tweets, reports that the CIA's investment arm, In-Q-Tel, has bought a stake in Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. Visible's technology crawls through millions of web sites, picking up posts and conversations from blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube and Amazon, Shactman's article states. Currently, it doesn't touch closed sites such as Facebook.

In-Q-Tel spokesperson Donald Tighe told Shactman that intelligence agencies want Visible to keep track of foreign social media and give intelligence analysts early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally. But as the article points out, the tool can be used inward to monitor domestic bloggers or tweeters. Visible already keeps tabs on web 2.0 sites for Dell, AT&T, Microsoft and Verizon. For instance, the company is monitoring animal-rights activists' sites for Spam-maker Hormel.

The article is a must-read along with Shactman's interview on DemocracyNow conducted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Oct. 22. As a Facebook and Twitter user some of the issues raised in that interview cause concern. Shactman noted that Microsoft and Google recently signed deals with Twitter and Facebook where all of our tweets and blog updates will be easily searchable via Microsoft's Bing search engine and Google. I wonder if my wall posts that can now only be viewed by my friends will now be exposed to the whole world? Or will the privacy of password-protected tweets and closed Facebook walls still be safeguarded?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Time of Renewal

So, I was listening to the Kojo Nnamdi show Monday on my car radio (WAMU, 88.5 FM) as he spoke with the presidents of Georgetown University and the University of Maryland in College Park about their colleges and education. Both schools are located in the metro Washington, D.C. area

C. D. “Dan” Mote, Jr., the president of UMD, described going back to school after the summer break as a time of renewal. That resonated with me because I have a colleague at work who has returned to school to pursue a master’s degree. I’ve shared his excitement –and anxiety at times – as he returned to school after a long hiatus and worked his way back into the rhythm of classes, reading assigned books and writing papers. President Mote’s words also took me back to my college years when each fall was like a new beginning, a time of discovery, an intellectual adventure.

I yearned for that sense of renewal -- which brings me to the topic of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar that began for me and most Muslims on August 22 upon the sighting of the new moon. Ramadan is also a time of renewal. Ramadan, Muslims believe, is when the first words of the Qur’an were revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad via the angel Jabril (Gabriel) more than 1,430 years ago.

During this month, as instructed by God in the Qur’an, Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days about an hour before sun rises until sunset so that they “will learn self-restraint,” as one translation of the book states. Observance of the month does not only involve abstaining from food and drink and intimate relationships with one’s spouse during the daylight hours. It also means to abstain from bad habits or bad deeds. The aim is to reflect on one’s shortcomings through prayer and reading of Qur'an, and to increase one’s good and charitable works so that by the end of the month that person will have achieved spiritual, mental and physical renewal.

So, for those starting a new school year or engaged in observing Ramadan or doing both, open your mind and heart to intellectual and spiritual discovery. The days and nights are pregnant with new opportunities.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Agony at Gethsemene

One of the sites I found especially moving during my trip through Israel was the Garden of Gethsemene, where Jesus reportedly prayed(while his disciplines slept) and was arrested. We all have to go through those dark moments of meeting self, our own Gethsemene, which is why this site, along with the Sea of Galilee, stayed with me more than some others. I have been very bad about blogging Rutrell was better than I was during the spring--but we both plan to get regular soon. In the meantime, here's a photo of a portion of the Garden, which is outside the Church of Gethsemene. Some of the olive trees(the ones with really thick and gnarly trunks) date back 2,000+ years.