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New E-Book from John Robb

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I have been a long time fan of John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog for many years and strongly recommend his military theory book  Brave New War for anyone interested in changes in warfare in the 21st century.  If you have been following GG, you know that John’s interests have turned in recent years  from the destructive part of  Boyd’s strategic continuum (tactics-operations/grand tactics -strategy) more toward the constructive ( grand strategy – theme for vitality and growth) with increasing examination of economic, ethical, legal, cultural and moral dimensions of societal rule-sets.

John has a new E-Book out, first of a series, that lays out his thinking in this area and how we can fix what ails America.

The American Way

My new booklet, “The American Way” is now on Amazon.  

If you are wondering what is wrong with America.  This booklet provides a concise answer.  

Also, this booklet provides a way to get us back on a path towards economic progress.  

Be forewarned, this booklet is just the start.  I’ll have more concrete ways to do it in booklets to be released over the next three months.  

Enjoy.  

PS:  I’ve got a booklet on iWar coming out next month too.

John gave me a preview of the manuscript and I thoroughly endorse the direction in which he is going with The American Way. America’s economic and political problems and strategic dysfunction have epistemological and moral roots.

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Connect the Dots … see the Big Picture

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- bragging on Cath Styles and our joint game project, Sembl, via the Taj Mahal ]
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connect the dots... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...and see the big picture... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

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Okay, I cheated: the image on the left is a modification of the image on the right using GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program — but you get the idea — printed images in newspapers used to be done in halftone dots, which when magnified looked like the image on the right, and when seen from regular viewing distance like that on the left. You get my point.

When there’s talk of “solving analytic puzzles”, though, the issue is often phrased in terms of “connecting the dots” to “see the big picture”.

When the “dots” are nuggets of data, information, knowledge, or even god help us wisdom, however, the way to connect them for the most powerful overview is by means of a “creative leap” from one datum to the next — and such a leap, when you think of it, boils down to a primitive element of pattern recognition: this is like that, this sembles that.

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In this introductory video on Sembl, Dr Cath Styles puts what we’re up to nicely:

Sembl from Catherine Styles on Vimeo.

Key quote:

Sembl generates a trove of unique analogical data, and if that data is linked to logical data about concepts, people and places, Sembl will connect our intuitive understanding of how things are like each other with our rational knowledge of what things are. We’re building a new kind of index to the global network, harnessing the associating capacity of humans and the processing power of machines. so we can surface useful, relevant information from masses of available data. It’s browse and play in the service of find and resolve…

Let’s bullet-point that. It’s not the only way to describe Sembl, but it’s a very concise and useful one. We are:

  • generating a trove of unique analogical data
  • building a new kind of index to the global network
  • connecting our intuitive understanding with our rational knowledge
  • surfacing useful, relevant information from masses of available data
  • harnessing the associating capacity of humans and the processing power of machines
  • And we’re doing that in depth, in a style that calls forth artistry

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    Isaac Bashevis Singer‘s artist’s eye sees connections that are more mystical and less obviously practical than the ones you and I see — in his short story, A Piece of Advice, for instance:

    Nowadays snow is a trifle: it falls for a day or two at most. But in those days! Often it snowed for a month without stopping! Huge snowdrifts piled up; houses were buried; and everyone had to dig their way out. Heaven and earth merged and became one. Why does the beard of an old man turn white? Such things are all related. — at night, we heard the howling of beasts . . . or perhaps it was only the sound of the wind.

    — but then Isaac Bashevis Singer has a Nobel Prize for this sort of thing — while for almost all values of you and I, you and I don’t as yet, and maybe never will.

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    Here’s what an artist’s eye makes of the Taj Mahal:

    View of the Taj Mahal from the Yamuna River side, Ca 1810, via Art Investments & Jackson Auctions

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    Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B

    Sunday, December 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the game of Connect the Dots in play and practice ]
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    CIA's (now ret'd) Nada Bakos examines the Al Qaida board in the HBO docu, Manhunt

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    Manhunt, the HBO documentary, does what (not having been there and seen that at the time) appears to be a decent job of recreating some of the cognitive stratregies employed by CIA officers in the OBL hunt. The one I’m interested in here is the building of a “link chart” or cognitive map — law enforcement “evidence board” — the idea being (a) to note known connections visibly, and (b) to encourage the mind to make intuitive leaps that reveal previously unknown connections between nodes… or “dots”.

    Sophisticated software does this sort of thing algorithmically with regard to (eg) network connections via phone-calls, but the human mind is still better than AI at some forms of pattern recognition, and that’s the aspect that interests me here.

    Aside:

    For more on the cognitive significance of the link chart in Manhunt, see my post Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles.

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    Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock lays out the way it works –

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    Okay, so one way to visualize connections is to make a fairly random collage of relevant photos, names, dates and places, and tie it together with links of string or ribbon. That’s the equivalent of what in HipBone games terms we’d call a “free-form” game, and it works well for the “divergent”, initial brainstorming phase of thought. But it does little to bottle its own energy, to focus down, to force the mind — in the no less powerful “convergent” phase — into perceiving even more links than occur spontaneously in building the link chart in question.

    HipBone‘s preformatted boards take the cognitive process to that second stage. They work on one of the most powerful ingredients in creativity: constraint. Business writer Dave Gray of Communication Nation puts it like this:

    Creativity is driven by constraints. When we have limited resources — even when the limits are artificial — creative thinking is enhanced. That’s because the fewer resources you have, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.

    But that premise doesn’t just hold true for business problem-solving — it’s at the heart of creative thinking at the Nobel level, too, in both arts and sciences. Consider mathematician Stanley Ulam, writing in his Adventures of a Mathematician:

    When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…

    Here’s how the poet TS Eliot puts it:

    When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas.

    A Hipbone Gameboard such as the Waterbird, Dartboard, or Said Symphony board is chosen precisely to challenge the mind with third, fourth and fifth rounds of “creative leaps” — thus adding both divergent and convergent cognitive styles to this form of graphical analysis.

    That’s my point here — and a plug for HipBone-Sembl style thinking.

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    I can’t resist adding a couple of instances in which the meme of “connecting the dots” via a link chart or evidence board has crept from TV series that I enjoyed into the world of games — this first one based on the terrific French detective series, Engrenages, retitled Spirals for British consumption:

    — and this one for fans of the US TV series, Breaking Bad:

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    Birthday Greetings to Online Forums and Community

    Thursday, August 8th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- history was minted here ]
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    Today is the fortieth birthday of Plato Notes — the “first permanent, general-purpose online conferencing system”, brainchild of my online friend David Woolley.

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    You can read Brian Dear‘s PLATO Notes released 40 years ago today for the general story, or David’s own PLATO: The Emergence of Online Community from 1991 — but best of all perhaps would be this video, which will give you a sense of the man as well as the relevant history —

    – and historic this truly was.

    Happy fortieth, David — and more thanks from so very many of us than I quite know how to express.

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    Book Mini-Review: Makers: the New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

    Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

    Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson 

    This is a fun book  by the former editor-in-chief of WIRED , author of The Long Tail and the co-founder of 3D Robotics, Chris Anderson. Part pop culture, part tech-optimist futurism and all DIY business book, Anderson is preaching a revolution, one brought about by the intersection of 3D printing and open source “Maker movement” culture, that he believes will be bigger and more transformative to society than was the Web. One with the potential to change the “race to the bottom” economic logic of globalization by allowing manufacturing entrepreneurs to be smart, small, nimble and global by sharing bits and selling atoms.

    Anderson writes:

    Here’s the history of two decades of innovation in two sentences: The past ten years have been about discovering new ways to create, invent, and work together on the Web. The next ten years will be about applying those lessons to the real world.

    This book is about the next ten years.

    ….Why? Because making things has gone digital: physical objects now begin as designs on screens, and those designs can be shared online as files…..once an industry goes digital in changes in profound ways, as we’ve seen in everything from retail to publishing. The biggest transformation, but in who’s doing it. Once things can be done on regular computers, they can be done by anyone. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing happening in manufacturing.

    …..In short, the Maker Movement shares three characteristics,  all of which I’d argue are transformative:

    1. People using digital desktop tools to create designs for new products and prototype them (“digital DIY”)

    2. A cultural norm to share those designs and collaborate with others in online communities.

    3. The use of common design file standards that allow anyone, if they desire, to send their designs to commercial manufacturing services to be produced in any number, just as easily as they can fabricate them on their desktop. This radically foreshortens the path from idea to entrepreneurship, just as the Web did in software, information, and content.

    Nations whose entire strategy rests upon being the provider of cheapest labor per unit cost on all scales are going to be in jeopardy if local can innovate, customize and manufacture in near-real time response to customer demand. Creativity of designers and stigmergic /stochastic collaboration of communities rise in economic value relative to top-down, hierarchical production systems with long development lags and capital tied up betting on having large production runs.

    Interesting, with potentially profound implications.

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