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Best Podcasts of 2010

Posted: January 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conversations | No Comments »

This list is the best podcasts of the 120 weekly podcasts I subscribe to.

1 - Jesse Schell: Visions of the Gamepocalypse – Long Now Foundation

Jessee Schell imagines what the world might look like with pervasive games. Hands down most interesting talk for me of the year.

2 -Jonathan Goldstein: The Ride of Your Life – Wiretap

Hands down my favorite podcast overall in 2010. If you haven’t listened to Wiretap before, you should listen to about five episodes before you make any judgement. I have yet to meet anyone who does not love this show. In this Wiretap episode Howard and Jonathan are live on stage at Drawn and Quarterly. Plus, Gregor pitches a Jonathan Golstein amusement park ride.

3 - Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe on Lamb Castration, PETA, and American Labor – The Entertainment Gathering (via Fora.tv)

Completely changed my view of Mike Rowe.

4 - Boris Timanovsky: Pen Pal – The Moth

Boris tells an amusing story about secretly becoming a pen pal of a friend’s child after his daughter loses interest only to find out his friend was being a pen pal to his daughter as well.

5 – Jonathan Safran Foer: Eating Animals – Sixth and I Historic Synagogue (via Fora.tv)

This talk is based on the book of the same name that asks people to act on their values.

6 – Dan Savage: Savage Lovecast: Sex at Dawn

Dan Savage invites the author of Sex at Dawn to the show. Both the book and he show are great. Here is what Dan Savage says about this book: “Sex at Dawn is the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948. Want to understand why men married to supermodels cheat? Why so many marriages are sexless? Why paternity tests often reveal that the “father” isn’t? Read Sex at Dawn.”

7 – Bill Moyers – Populism, Social Change and Our World

This was Bill Moyers’ final show on PBS. From PBS: “In this special one and half hour edition of Bill Moyers Journal, The Journal travels to Iowa where one group has been helping ordinary citizens fight for change for more than three decades. And, Bill Moyers and populist Jim Hightower to look at the history and legacy of people’s movements and discuss how ordinary people can reclaim political power. And, Acclaimed author Barry Lopez joins Bill Moyers to discuss nature, spirit and the human condition.”

8 – Lawrence Lessig: Of/By/4 - TEDxBoston (via YouTube)

This is just one of the many great lectures Lessig has delivered on the theme of corruption.

9 – Search Engine w/ Jesse Brown: The Realist – (a TVO production)

I am constantly forced to rethink my perspective about technology and culture after listening to Search Engine. This podcast in particular is a satirical look at the future of online social dialogue.

10 – The Onion - In The Know: Is Pundit Duncan Birch A Worthless Idiot?

The Onion has consistently made it on my list every year. This episode I believe is The Onion at its best.

Janice Stein talks about the ethics of responsibility and accountability

Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Lectures | No Comments »

Below are notes from Janice Steins talk about the ethics of responsibility and accountability recorded and presented by Big Ideas.

She says, More and more accountability “rendering of accounts” is trumping responsibility. And there are consequences to the quality of our public life because of this.

We are moving from ethical standards and obligations to talk about accounting.

As traditional institutions have lost authority, we are turing to accountants to fix our problems. We turn big questions into accounting problems. But Janice doesn’t think it is just this. As societies become more complex and interconnected, individual responsibility diminishes, and we blame the system more, which eases the conscious of the individual. It takes a problem of conscious and turns it into a matter of systems design.

Janice asks, To whom are we accountable? The language that we use makes difficult problems simples, and covers up conflicts in important areas.

We also use interchangeably accountability and responsibility, but they aren’t the same. A simple definition of responsibility might be understood as an attachment to a set of moral standards that we have accepted as our own. This is a different meaning than accountability. Moral experience ideally is independent of getting caught, detection or punishment. Responsibility as we experience it are values whether personal, religious or otherwise, that we accept.

Accountability is quite different as it is used by corporations that increasingly shape our lives.

One comparison is to ask “Do parents seek to raise an accountable child or a responsible child”?

Stein asks, “To whom or to what are parents accountable?” Society increasingly wants accountability of parents for children. How long and for what should parents be held accountable. Should parents be held accountable for children who drive drunk. Are they still responsible. They answers might be different, and how might we reconcile these conflicts between responsibility and accountability. And it only gets more complicated as we scale up to global.

The long term shift from responsibility to accountability equals less care on behalf on the employer and employee.

Good Work Project. How is good work defined. Work that is excellent and responsible. The project looks at 10 different professions. The early results are not encouraging. Across professions people increasingly feel that the conflict between doing good work and success when they face contradictions to be accountable in the work as distinct from responsible, they choose accountable over responsibility. In this way accountability weakens our sense of responsibility.

At the same time this is a growing emphasis of corporate social responsibility.  Where corporations are asked to consider there roles as citizens instead of the narrow role of accountability.

Accountability is not limited to corporate sector. NGOs have same problem. Govt. hand off responsibilities of care to NGOs which now face contradictions of being responsible and accountable. It is reasonable for a corporation to be accountable. But the public sector is not expected match the corporate sector. However that is not the case. Stein asks to whom is an NGO accountable? Board, staff, communities it serves, to those it speaks for, to govt. who provide funding, to international agencies that negotiate the contracts? There is no clear answer to that question. Each one of those stakeholders is quite different. Who sets the standard of responsibility? Globally, the IMF have moved aggressively to set uniformed standards of performance. They have established the criteria of accountability without a great deal of attention to the communities that NGOs serve.

For example in 1993 the IMF moved to reshaped accountability of health care. And local NGOs were held to strict measures of performance. Despite repeated warnings to IMF that much of what would be developed would not be sustainable. NGOs become trapped. Staff live the conflict. If they refuse the funding, programs that are critical do not go forward. Accepting the funding bind them to inappropriate measures that ignore the local conditions. For example, the president of a local org for 30 years described the accountability as a “hammer” which prevents them from fulling the responsibility they have to their communities.

Without a sense of time you cannot be held accountable. This adds additional complications. NGOs that deliver specific service like immunizations it is easy to measure. But programs with longer timeframes, designed to address larger problems. That is more difficult to get the timelines right. When they conflict, accountability conflicts with responsibility. In the worst case, NGOs are forced to abandoned knowledge of local needs.

The problem that the NGO sector faces is the mirror image of the corporate sector.

Citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with holding govt. accountable. We speak more about a democratic deficit as govt. have moved to public/private partnerships, accountability and responsibility has become more difficult. We hope that better accounting features can fix our most fundamental problems. When was the last time we have heard about a responsible IMF? There is a world of difference.

One last example. Religious institutions. The Vatican’s response to bishops and individual clergy. The vatican argued the bishops had gone to far and not safe guarded children. Absent in the discussion was the responsibility that religious authorities had to the communities they served. If better systems were designed and better information could deal with some of the deepest ethical dilemmas that we face. The language of accountability cannot take us as far as we can go.

We need to broaden our language beyond accountability. The responsible self in a society is a function of the society that we share.

Three practical puzzles and think about what kind of language we need to work through these puzzles.

How do we deal with error when we make serious mistakes?

For example, medical error. Is it enough to deal with error as a systems failure. Or is there always an issue of individual responsibility. If there is how do we hold people responsible? If we continue to scapegoat individual doctors, people will just cover up mistakes.

How do we protect whistle blowers? Their fate has gotten worse. Generally they are punished discouraging others to come forward. As a consequence of accepting responsibility we loose the capacity to learn from mistakes. How can we protect whistle blowers who have a sense of responsibility.

How do we broaden our language of accountability beyond what we can measure, or too difficult to measure. What we don’t measure we don’t see. If we don’t broaden the language, we run the risk that we will become a society of accountants. Accountants are not known for creativity, risk taking and pushing boundaries.

The next generation of leaders will look like will be risk taking innovators with a conscious.

Nicole Ellison Lecture, Rethinking Social Network Sites

Posted: December 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Conversations | No Comments »

In 2007 there was a lot of ambiguity about what a SN site was. SN sites and practices have shifted significantly because of user practices and technology changes. For example this notion of co-creation, which was true from the beginning is emphasized more. Tagging, sending gifts,, etc… more opportunities for friends to co-create the profile. Also, server related data. Info about what I have done and what others have done. Was there, but not as salient in 2007. Also, features that make it easier to update profile. The profile has many tools that make it easier for it to be updated constantly. The profile is moving away from semi-static. People interact from the site through their media stream. Almost like a news aggregator. Different than a traditional profile centric site like an online dating site like Match.com. Friends lists is still important, but more interesting is the social graph. Algorithms at the networked level now suggests friends to me.

New definition acknowledges that SN is a comm platform with unique profiles created by many agents using a variety of media.

Ellison’s new work looks at communication practices of Facebook users. Also, not just about friends, but the idea that not all friends are close.  On avg 25% of facebook friends are actual friends. This suggests that it might be useful for researchers to consider actual friends differently than all friends. Only actual friends seem to impact perceptions of social capital.

This is also the first work that seems to probe the communication behaviors of people on SNS.  People are using these sites to learn more about the people they have shared relationships offline. It lowers the barriers of face to face connections and extends the notion of latent ties (have the tech capacity to connect, but not the social connection). Facebook provide the technical capacity for communication, but also identity information to make the interaction more socially relevant.

Also, Ellison’s wrok shows that affordance of SNS enable you to engage in self-deception, yet people minimize the extent to which they are honest. Interesting point is that people sometimes deceive depending on what others around them are doing. And it isn’t clear that if everyone around is shaving years off their age, if it is considered lying or deception any more.


Async: The asynchronous nature of creating and sharing info gives participants license to write about future selves. Discrepancies that could be made true by the time of a potential f2f meeting. The smaller the discrepancy makes the “lies” more acceptale.

Reduced cues: Discrepancies were more acceptable for face saving and equivocation strategies.

Basically, there is a degree of expected misrepresentations within online contexts. “Fudging to get over the hump” is acceptable.

A profile appears to be a promise that is made to an imagined audience that doesn’t differ fundamentally from the person represented by their profile. BAsically, people aren’t for the most part engaging in fantastic identity experiments online.

Ellison says there is a growing set of research of profile identity across contexts. More often our tools support the expectation that people want to manage multiple identities to have more nuanced identities in different contexts.

She points out that we need to move away from the idea that all SNS are all the same.

Are their offline examples of this idea of profile promise

Concepts from the Talk by Juliet Schor using the Internet to “Save the Planet”

Posted: November 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Conversations | No Comments »

Information Technology Raises the Bar of Productivity. New Tech allows to happen is at a small scale, an ind or small co. can be highly prductive because of their relationship to networks in terms of getting information, making economic connections and transactions, processing infomation. Lots of ways INof Tech raises the productivity of ind. and companies. It is the next stage after big. Small scale is becoming more efficient. This is key in thinking about the role of informaiton technology.

Development of a new economic model. The rise of peer production and the role of the new kinds of activities in creating a new kind of economy is really central. It is an interesting question why this is happening. Especially when you consider the role of the state, and how big business have captured the state to change the laws to redirect large flows of money. We lack a viable economic alternative to global capitalism. We have lots of pieces, but we need to put it together. We need academic, but also people doing it. In certain parts of the US it is much more developed, like the Pacific Northwest. The recession provides a tremendous opportunity to pursue alternatives, especially in blighted areas.



Michael Pollan Lecture at Michigan State University

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Conversations | No Comments »

Michael Pollan, author of several books about food, health and nutritionism, gave a lecture at Michigan State University.

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Highlights from from both his talks (He did a smaller Q&A earlier in the day).

  • An uncritical worship of nature leaves you vulnerable to pests.
  • Its amazing how entitled we feel to get our way with nature.
  • Our intelligence is no match for 3 billion years of evolution. There must be way to deal our relation to nature. It’s not a contest or a war.
  • Let’s restore Ag to its standing as a solution to many societal problems. Ag may be the most important thing you can do.
  • In the whole discussion in the Ag system we worry more about the animals and land than the workers. Its a problem at different levels. And at the same time we still have this agrarian ideal that farmers still have control over their destiny, which is being chipped away.
  • Our current situation is the result of our food policy to drive down costs. The cost is to the welfare of the people involved. We have to step back and realize cheap food externalizes costs. The problem is bigger than the food system.
  • We need to make food more affordable, rather than cheap. We are subsidizing the least healthy food, which isn’t fresh produce.
  • No other industry boasts about the cheapness of products (The focus rather is on quality). We need to (including the Ag industry) focus on the quality of our food, not just the quantity. Yield amount per farmer is amazing when supported by petroleum products. But there is many hidden costs to that model, and quantity hasn’t necessarily worked!
  • What about international food? The challenge is not the amount of food, but where it is, who has access and how much it is to obtain it. Free trade regime, may be good for cars; but food is different. You don’t want people’s bellies at the mercy of Wall Street and the White House.
  • Urban Ag, specifically in Detroit? It provides local fresh food, also employment. You will be amazed at the yields. The key is labor.
  • Genetic engr will prob. have to be dealt with by Supreme Crt. The way patent laws were drawn are mistaken, which allows Monsanto to control. Monsanto & climate change genes? Look closely at what they are saying, there is less there than meets the eye. There model supports a monoculture system, which isn’t sustainable. Plus they haven’t delivered on their miracle gene products. The problem with Monsanto inventing new plants,  they make money the more units of the same thing they can sell.
  • We need biodiversity. Going down the path of the targeted solution may not be a good solution. We need to think in terms of resiliency of the whole plant cycle.
  • 2 ways to get people interested in farming: Pay farmers higher wages, Change the esteem for farmers. We have mocked farming for decades. Govt. policy wanted more workers in factories and fewer farmers. In the progressive era farmers threatened the powers that be.
  • Yet, the prestige of farming is going up. We need to look at farmers as people doing intelligent, important work in our society.
  • What is the role of Corps? The cost of fuel will drive us to a regional food system. The regional farmer might become really interesting.
  • Water issues? Places where water is located will once again become valuable after small bubble where we were able to be where water wasn’t.
  • Enviro movement has made a big mistake not to align with hunters and farmers. Worshipping untouched land doesn’t help us negotiate.
  • Human and nature must deal with each other. We have to put our energy into the land we have already changed.
  • For some enviros, once the land has been changed, it is no longer interesting for the movement, which is problematic.
  • GMO? GMO’s we have is only enhanced for the farmer, not the consumer.
  • Subsidies aren’t bad if they mean govt. support for farmers. We do it bc its important (think depression era).
  • Our farmers are doing what we ask them too. Overproduction has been too much of a good thing. Reward for crop diversity, or clean water. Farmers will respond. It is up to us to design good incentives. Eliminating subsidies would be a disaster, it is how we craft them that is important.