20070824

Open Software, Open Minds, Open thinking.

One of the big problems at Milwaukee County is the lack of creativity by both Scott Walker appointees and the existing bureaucracy. They tend to look for commercial solutions from a semi-closed circle of vendors and consultants. They don't want to take a risk on some of the technologies like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that can save Milwaukee County money and thus allow for the preservation of services.

Many VoIP carriers provide flat rate lines with unlimited calling in the US and Canada.

Significant savings can be incurred using VoIP based PBXs especially if implemented using Open Source based systems such as Asterix.

If Federal, State, County, Cites and Villages interconnect over their own fiber networks, the cost of inter agency calling can be reduced to nearly zero.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and stop government reliance on on gold plated IT solutions. A mentality that worships big consultants and big business solutions seems to reign supreme in Wisconsin. We need to foster a spunky, roll-your own, self dependency. Open Source Software (OSS) can provide low cost solutions to many of governments IT problems. To be effective, it takes disciplined software development and a cooperative approach with other other Villages, Cities, Counties, States and Countries involved in OSS development.

Google (A Linux shop) and Yahoo (A FreeBSD Shop) are companies that have made themselves using OSS to craft customer solutions. With the right minds at the helm, OSS solutions can architected to be scalable and reliable.

We need to put money into employee development rather than the pockets of large consultant firms like Accenture. We need to cooperate with other developers using the Internet and work to collectively improve our OSS based software. Taking an open, cooperative yet self reliant approach, we can insure that government can best serve the people and be frugal at the same time.

20070821

Infrastructure Cooperatives as an alternative to "natural monopolies".

One of the revolutionary elements of the Internet is the ability of different network operators to interconnect and exchange data seamlessly. This was made possible by building a systems based on layers of open standards.

Much of the information exchanged between different Internet providers flows across exchange points. Typically, exchange points are operated by neutral third parties. Many exchange points are private entities, some are cooperatives. The exchange point operator is responsible for maintenance of the physical infrastructure. A typical exchange point is a large building filled with switches, routers, servers, wire, fiber, power systems and environmental systems.

TCP/IP based (the protocol suite behind the Internet) networks have a unique technological twist in that there exists a standardized protocol for defining the policy for exchange of data between different networks. This protocol is called Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP for short.

In effect, the exchange point is a market place where network providers can sell or trade data, people negotiate the trade or sale and the mutual regulation of that exchange is highly formalized in the form of the BGP protocol.

The concept of an exchange point can be taken beyond a single building. In places like the London Internet Exchange Ltd. (LINX) the infrastructure has been extended to a cluster of network connected buildings in the heart of London.

In Wellington, New Zealand, a city initiative extended the concept of the exchange to include a city wide network. Companies in buildings on the Wellington CityLink network have the option of selecting Internet services from multiple providers. This created an open market for Internet services on a city wide basis. This was made possible through the magic of open protocols used over a common neutral network infrastructure.

Currently it is possible to provide all the combined services traditionally provided by cable TV and telephone companies over Internet. Globally, both cable TV operators and telephone companies are upgrading portions of their networks to support and use Internet protocols.

Now, what if instead of granting cable and telephone companies local monopolies, we put in a common, shared, infrastructure cooperative? As in Wellington, the local municipality could provide initial capital and organization, but operating capital and the retirement of debt would come through membership fees paid to the cooperative. What if the cooperative was open to any operator capable of providing services within the confines of the open standards? It would be bizarre ... or rather a bazaar; an open market where the consumer can choose from competing companies.

This would provide a system where we would have true open markets and true competition as opposed to the Orwellian use of the term "competition" as coined by AT&T's lobbyists.

Unfortunately, we can't have municipalities organizing open telecommunications cooperatives in Wisconsin because of laws passed in Madison that where written by AT&T lobbyists.

In the 19th Century, Wisconsin was a political cesspool. Our state was every bit as corrupt as it is today. In the mid-1800s, a railroad baron by the name of Byron Kilbourn – who today has a major street in Milwaukee named after him – paid the governor at the time (Coles Bashford) $50,000 to sign legislation giving Kilbourn a land grant to build his Milwaukee and La Crosse railroad. Kilbourn paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to members of the Legislature to pass the legislation. That was an enormous amount of money at a time when most people were earning less than a dollar a day. Only one senator – “Honest” Amasa Cobb – turned down the bribe.


Look at the money being poured on our politicians at the state level by the telecommunications companies. They are the robber barons of our era.

Do we need to grant "natural" monopolies or has computer technology and standardization given us the ability to use standard platforms for the delivery of goods and services? If you want to get radical, think about applying the same principals as outlined above to the WISDOT owned railroads and to electric power lines.

20070820

Milwaukee rail transit debate: Fuzzy math and childish taunting

The local right wing blogger often refer to rail mass transit as "choo-choos." Being one who is a terrible speller (hence a frequenter of dictionaries) I note this definition of choo-choo from my on-line dictionary:

Choo-choo (noun) : a child's word for a railroad train or locomotive, esp. a steam engine.

So are the anti-rail bloggers children, or are they calling pro-rail advocates children?

I do not advocate using steam engines for mass transit. Let me state, for the record, that am for electric powered, rail based, mass transit. Below is my reasoning.

BTW - Lettered assumptions are listed at the end.

Electric powered, rail based transportation costs less to you, me, and society than cars and highways because:

Rail uses less land and less energy to transport more people. Less land is removed from the tax base by rail than highways. A double tracked right of way can move more commuters between two points than a four lane highway.

The people who use mass transit have more disposable income because cars are an expensive burden on each individual family income. The burden of the car on each individual income will increase over time because of assumption C and A.

Rail enforces vertical and linear development in place of sprawl, leading to preservation of green space and farmland. We should care because preservation of farmland and green space are in the best interest of our posterity. See B.

An electric powered train does not need to haul around its own power source and fuel, hence it is lighter than a car or bus. It is more efficient than even an electric powered bus because of the lower friction coefficient of steel on steel. See D and E.

Less power means less fuel, less pollution and less cost. See A.

A highway will last, at best, 50 years between major rebuilds. We spend 810 million rebuilding the Marquette Interchange today, we will spend about the same inflation adjusted amount in 50 years. Rail right-of-ways have a standard depreciation schedule of 100 years. So if we spend 810 million on a light rail system, it would be half the cost of the Marquette Interchange when amortized over its 100 year life.

Note that the original Marquette Interchange was completed in 1966.

Electric powered rail vehicles take less maintenance then diesel powered buses. They can transport more people per driver. They last longer. The amortized price per passenger seat is lower. The operational costs are lower because they require less operators per passenger seat. These are facts, check them out yourself.

See: Light Rail Now! MythBusters Weblog

Overall, housing and development tends be stimulated by rail based mass transit. Property values in and around mass transit, tend to increase, especially in middle class neighborhoods. These are facts, check them out yourself.

See: Housing Values Higher Near Most Buffalo Metro Rail Stations

The Milwaukee pubic is being presented a set of orchestrated lies about the cost and effectiveness of rail based mass transit. These lies come out of pseudo science studies produced predominately by organizations funded by right wing, pro-sprawl, pro-monopoly, pro-oil, foundations.

See: Randal O'Toole's "Thoreau Institute": Oil, Asphalt, and Pipeline Money Feed an Extremist Attack on Urban Planning and Public Transit

Google the next anti-rail "study" you see. Check if the author has ties back to any "libertarian" quasi-academic think-tanks which act as mouthpieces for their corporate and conservative funders.

"You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

See: The Cato Hypocrisy

Assumptions:

A. - The price of petroleum based products will go up faster than wages or inflation. Demand is increasing due to economic growth in both China and India while cheaply extracted reserves of oil are declining. The price will inevitably go up because demand is increasing and supply is diminishing.


B - As global population increases, farm land used for food production will become an increasingly important asset. In 2006 Wisconsin exported 259 million dollars worth of Cereals. Wisconsin has some of the most productive farmland on planet earth, much of which has been buried under urban sprawl.

C - There are no "magic" alternatives to gasoline. We can't depend on unproven technological solutions to power future cars. Every currently discussed alternative to gasoline is more expensive. Some may be cheaper given a continual rise in the price of petroleum (see A).

D. It takes more energy to move more weight or mass. See http://srikant.org/core/node4.html#SECTION00420000000000000000
E. Steel on steel has a lower friction than rubber on concrete. See: http://www.roymech.co.uk/Useful_Tables/Tribology/co_of_frict.htm

20070801

Back from OIF

Two years ago after Katrina I decided to rejoin the Wisconsin National Guard and get past my last two years of service to make 20 years. I will be 50 this year, and it seemed to me a now or never proposal at the time. I went down to the recruiter requesting to help out on Katrina. As it turned out, by the time the paperwork was completed, Governor Doyle had withdrawn Wisconsin National Guard members from participation in the cleanup.

In '06 I was attached to the 1-121 FA out of the Richard Street Armory for activation in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. So I spent time in Camp Shelby, then Kuwait and Iraq. In all I spent about 35 days in Iraq and about a year overseas. I was never was exposed to direct hostilities. I am just another guy who did his time over there. Hence the silent blog.

Now I am back.