while we were all distracted...

So what will it take to get us on this list?

Sub-$100 laptop design unveiled

"Children in Brazil, China, Egypt, Thailand, and South Africa will be among the first to get the under-$100 (£57) computer, said Professor Negroponte at the Emerging Technologies conference at MIT."

Paging GILAS!

Click on the picture for more cool images.


the new black (and white)

This is a response to Christian Monsod's Solution as posted on MLQ's blog.

If you can't march with the black and white (because there are just too many people with shady backgrounds or you're still figuring out the grays) but you're still committed to improving the country and you feel something should be done. Join me in calling for the following:

  1. Immediate resignation of all COMELEC commissioners.
    (Impeach them if they won't.)

  2. Immediate implementation of a RATIONAL electoral automation program.

  3. Creation of a COMELEC REFORM COMMISSION (composed of representatives from all sectors) who will select a new set of commissioners who should all be above reproach.

  4. Immediate reform of the COMELEC. We want an electoral system that we can trust.

This is the most important, most immediate demand. All sides of the impeachment/hello garci/gloriagate can agree to this.

This is the best investment for our future -and if GMA wants to leave a legacy, this is it.

Feel free to take the logo above. Post it on your blogs. Remix it. Send it to friends. Blow it up. Print it on t-shirts. Post it on walls.

(email me if you want a higher resolution or a vector copy.)

There is should be no ambiguity on this:



touching the state

"How and where do we ‘touch the State’? When do we become citizens rather than members of the general public? And when we encounter the State as citizens, how does the nature of that interaction – the way it is choreographed, communicated, shaped, scripted, designed – affect our sense of citizenship?"

from "Touching the State" UK Design Council report
available as a .pdf (5.5mb) here.

The UK Design Council through their unit RED is taking "a proactive approach to solving problems and developing new concepts and processes for change... to provoke, stimulate, surprise and deliver, within a context that puts people first and is based in the real world."

One of their projects is Touching the State which looks "at the role of design in mediating and defining the relationship between the State and citizens." They ask "can these encounters be designed differently to increase engagement and a sense of citizenship?"

Essentially they are employing the tools of design (i.e. -looking through the eyes of the user; making the invisible visible and the intangible tangible; rapid prototyping and modeling) to rethink the way we interact with the State -even the processes of the state.

I am a firm believer in benefits of good design (and I am not referring the to glossy magazine conception of aesthetics and style -i mean it as a discipline and a way of thinking.) It would be interesting if we could have a similar project back home. If anything we Filipinos stand out in the region for our creativity -we could design (and redesign) some very innovative approaches to government and governance.

Image credit: Japan Today


t.o.d. spelling

Let's get this straight. it's supposed to be Transit Oriented Development NOT Development Funded Transit. Could someone make that clear to the MRT-8 proponents?

From Businessworld article dated September 20, 2005:

"A consortium led by American Transport System Corp. is proposing to develop a 2,300-hectare estate in Angono, Rizal, approximately the size of Makati City, to raise funds for the $907.4-million Metro Rail Transit 8 (MRT-8).

The estate called Palayan ng Bayan will be linked to MRT-8 by a 25-kilometer, six-lane highway the group will build by next year."

"In a proposal to the government, consortium representative, Herve Laumond, said 516 hectares will be initially developed into a special economic zone housing information technology firms, call centers, and wafer plants by 2006.

Also in the consortium are Vinci Construction Grand Projects, Bombardier Transportation, Invensys Foxboro Transportation, Aecom Technology Corp. and Systra."

"The consortium expects a high-end investment in wafer plant with an annual turnover of $500 million-$700 million to funnel, $15 million-$20 million to state coffers and about $10 million-$13 million to the local government of Rizal.

Mr. Laumond said the initial development would be enough to cover expenses for MRT-8 as it would draw $4 billion-$5 billion in direct investment. He said the project would benefit the government in direct income tax amounting to $45 million yearly at current exchange rates. The project will employ 100,000 workers."

So the scuttlebutts: To defray the investment costs, they want to develop an area larger than Makati that will potentially have 100,000 workers -BUT it'll be 25-kilometers from the nearest MRT-8 station which they'll need to connect to the train via a six-lane highway. What's wrong with this picture?

Intent of MRT-8 (mass transit)
= less car dependence, less traffic congestion, less sprawl
six lane highway+25 kilometers to nearest station
= sprawl and traffic congestion

Where will the workers live? Will they take the train to work?

The real-estate deal is just to cover the construction costs, to say nothing of the $100 M they will need to operate this project in the first 5 years.

The government should REALLY REALLY CONSIDER bus rapid transit as a solution. It'll be at a fraction of the cost and won't require these faustian trades. These light and heavy rail projects are starting to look like pork for engineering companies. (BTW, Laumond was also a proponent of MRT-4 and also has his fingers in the Panay Rail project.)


we are not alone

"Sixty-five percent of citizens across the world do not think their country is governed by the will of the people, a poll commissioned by the BBC suggests."

Read the rest of the article here.


the big here quiz

Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for WIRED magazine, posted this eco-awareness quiz on his Cool Tools blog.

It's an eye-opener of a test - specially with what I don't know about Metro Manila (or even of the current city I live and work in). I strongly suggest you take a stab at trying to answer the questions if only to enlarge your thinking of where the city begins and ends.

I've answered two of his questions here:

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

  • If you're in the East Zone of Manila -this is the probable route: your tap, main pipe, Pasig pumping station, Balara, La Mesa, Angat Dam, Angat-Umiray Rivers.

4) When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water?

  • If you're in Makati -to the Magallanes Sewage Treatment Plant, then to Tripa de Gallina, then to the Pasig, then to Manila Bay.
  • If you're in Q.C. -probably to a community septic tank.
  • If you're in Manila, to a CSSO (combined storm-sewer outfall) into Manila Bay.
  • If you're elsewhere, you probably have a septic tank. (And when was the last time you had it drained?)

lateral thinking

One more post on systems thinking, tackling again the problem of the powerful feedback gain and politics then I move on.

The feedback gain we are working with is: congressmen (indeed, any elected official for that matter), gain power and privilege while in their posts and even after -power and privilege that is often used to gain more resources to get their scions (or any other next of kin or protege) to run in the post they will vacate, thereby perpetuating the power> privilege >resources to get elected cycle. (Up to 50% of the previous congress members come from political clans.)

Caveat: There are MANY operational feedback gains, this is but one.

How do we break this feedback gain or de-couple it from the position? Term limits (which reduce the replacement cycle) have been instituted into the constitution, but very often the pol just gets a surrogate to warm their post to keep the power in the family. (c.f. -the Binays in Makati). The bill enabling the anti-dynasty provision was supposed to prevent this but it has never passed muster in congress (whose members, of course, will not vote against their political interests).

Pursuing some wishful thinking, here are a few new approaches using Brian Eno 's Oblique Strategies and Edward de Bono's Lateral Thinking. As with all re-thinks, the ideas are meant to be conversation starters and may set us on the road to innovative solutions. The trick is to think of the consequences (re: feedback gain), and find a workable operating principle:

What would happen to the feedback gain (and to Philippine politics) if we:

  1. Change the service area - What if congressmen were not allowed to run in their home province or any province they may have lived in? Would it remove or redirect vested interest?
  2. Increase the risk - What if all public officials (good or bad) were put to death immediately after their term? Would it bring out the noble or only the crazy?
  3. Extend rather than decrease the term limits What if we keep the congressmen in their post until they die? Would they tire of the privilege and begin to do some serious legislation?
  4. Elect congressmen by pairs What if you had to run as a duo? As a a duo -- but from separate provinces? (i.e.-both of you must win or neither one gets the post)
  5. Change the representation level. What if you can only run for barangay captain? Then the captains elect from among them, the councillors. Then the councillors elect the mayors, the mayors then elect the governor and congressmen, the congressmen elect from among them the senate and the presidentcy? And what if you could only stand for a higher post after at least two terms in your previous post? What if you were required to go back to the barangay level for one term before you could run again?
  6. Isolate Congress. -What if freshmen and sophomore representatives were closeted (ala trappist monks) for the length of their term?
  7. Name successors -What if would-be congressmen were required to name who they would select to run in their post after they retire? And they could not change their choice?

Like I said, new-think that could spark ideas for new approaches to arresting that feedback gain. More ideas please, the wilder the better.

Btw, some classic lateral thinking puzzles here.


system of down

Fig. 1

When I started this blog, I told myself I would avoid commenting on politics. I make an exception today as my comment on politics has a long range view.

I discussed leverage points in systems in my last post. Here's a real world explanation -albeit, a simplistic example. (see Fig. 1)

  • If we think of Congress as a reserve pool or buffer (i.e.-cache of politicians).
  • Input can be new politicians or scions of political families.
  • Output is retired politicians.
  • The positive feedback gain (and I use positive in a technical, amoral sense) is power and privilege which allows retiring politicians to favor their scions with resources to run for congress.
  • The positive feedback gain encourages more scions or proteges of politicians to run for congress - having their scions run for congress actually reinforces the feedback gain.
  • Because there is no positive feedback gain for new politicians who do not want to play patronage politics, there is a slower input flow of new (non-corrupt) politicians
  • (We might consider "public acclaim" as positive feedback for new pols but this potentially only encourages them to do better work - it does not arm more incoming new pols with resources to get into the buffer.
  • Term limits (not in illustration) were intended to break the cycle of patronage politics (negative feedback), but that only speeds up the replacement cycle but does not cut the positive feedback gain.
  • We can increase the number of new (hopefully ethical) politicians coming in (increasing one input) but if the size of the buffer stock (number of corrupt politicians in congress) does not change, then the state of the system (perceived and actual corruption) will not change

So, on to the proposals on the table:

  1. Replace the leader (resign or impeach). Replacing the leader by itself does not change the system if the buffer remains stable and feedback gain remains.
  2. Change the form of the buffer stock (bicameral to unicameral). Changing the form of the buffer stock does not change the system if the inputs remain the same and the actual stock ("a congressman by any other name...") is not changed.
  3. Put in a leader with powers over the buffer, input and output (a dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise) -can potentially clear the buffer stock but has been used to just redirect the cycle of the feedback gain (to oligarchs and cronies).
  4. Replace the whole stock (resign all or revolution). This will clear the buffer stock and potentially change the input sources but if the feedback gain remains (power and privilege leading to resources), then the system will find stability again (corruption will again take root).

Again, this is a simplified example -to illustrate that, in any system, lower number leverage points have amazing power over higher number leverage points (changing parameters vs. arresting feedback gains).

The challenge is (and I do not have the answers) : "How do we decouple or de-amplify the feedback gain?" Or, "How can we create a stronger feedback gain to get new, ethical politicians into the system?"

Ideas, anyone?

p.s. -I promise to get back to Livable Cities soon.


if the system is broke...

"Frameworks must be lived with and explored before they can be broken."

Thomas Kuhn

I've held back from posting over the last week given the ongoing political upheaval back home and the aftermath of Katrina in the U.S,

Both events are painful examples of failures in systems. By saying that, I am not absolving anyone of blame or complicity, simply that meaningful changes to systems rarely equate down the the replacement of a single individidual.

I am a veteran of both EDSA I and II and though each event produced the change we wanted to effect - replacing a corrupt leader - each failed to change the system for the good. Though we found the tipping point necessary to reset the political clock, the change point did not significantly affect the deeper (faulty) mechanisms of our society.

That points me to systems thinking, particularly to the late Dana Meadow who identified Twelve Leverage Points to Intervene in a System (pdf 91kb). I reproduce part of the summary from the Wikipedia page below:

Leverage points to intervene in a system
(in increasing order of effectiveness)

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)

Parameters are points of lowest leverage effects. Though they are the most clearly perceived among all leverages, they have little effect long term; they do not usually change behaviors. A widely changing system will not be made stable by a change of parameter, nor will a stagnant one dramatically change.

11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows

A buffer is a stabilizing stock. The stabilizing buffer is important when the stock amount is much higher than the potential amount of inflows or outflows. In the lake, the volume of water in the lake is the buffer: if there's a lot more of it than inflow/outflow, the system stays stable.

10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)

The structure of the system may have enormous effect on how the system operates. So it might also be a leverage point to act on. However, if a system structure was not built properly, the cost, delays and externalities of the rebuilding may be prohibitive. Sometimes, the structure cannot even be changed at all. So the leverage point might be to understand the system limitations and bottlenecks, and to work on fluctuations.

9. The length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes

Another leverage point is in the length of delays. Delays must be carefully considered, as information received too quickly or information received too late could cause either overreaction and underreaction. Very lengthy delays cause oscillations when trying to adjust a system. However, delays are often parameters that can be changed as easily as rate of change.

8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against

A negative feedback loop is a control that tend to slow down a process (it refers to the direction of the change). In a system going forward, the negative loop will tend to promote stability (stagnation). The loop will keep the stock near the goal, thanks to parameters, accuracy and speed of information feedback, and size of correcting flows.

7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops

A positive feedback loop is a control that tends to speed up a process (it refers to the direction of the change). It is a self-reinforcing loop. Positive feedback loop are sources of growth, of explosion, and sometimes of collapse when the feedback is not under control (in particular of a negative feedback loop). Dana indicates that in most cases, it is preferable to slow down a positive loop, rather than speeding up a negative one.

6. The structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

Information flow is a very important leverage point in a system. It is neither a parameter, nor a re-inforcing or slowing loop, but a new loop delivering information that was not delivered before. It is considered a very powerful leverage, cheaper and easier than infrastructure change.

5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)

Rules are very high leverage points. Dana Meadows points out the importance of paying attention to rules, and mostly to who make them.

4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

Self-organization refers to the capacity of a system to change itself by creating new structures; adding new negative and positive feedback loops, promoting new information flows, making new rules.

3. The goal of the system

A goal change has effect on every item listed above, parameters, feedback loops, information and self-organisation.

2. The mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises out of

A society paradigm is an idea, an unstated assumption (because it is unnecessary to state it) that everyone shares, thoughts, or states of thoughts that are sources of systems. Any set of assumptions becomes a paradigm, and therefore re-examining all the fundamental assumptions may lead to new paradigms. Paradigms are very hard to change, but there are no limits to paradigm change. It just requires another way of seeing things. Dana indicates paradigms might be changed by repeatedly and consistently pointing out anomalities and failures to those with open minds.

1. The power to transcend paradigms

Transcending paradigms may go beyond challenging fundamental assumptions, into the realm of changing the values and priorities that lead to the assumptions, and being able to choose among value sets at will. The power of this ability may be literally godlike.

More about this next time...

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