December Ephemera

December Ephemera

Things have started to grow a bit beyond the blog, including participating in the creative endeavors of a few friends.

There are also some creative odds and ends that don't really fit elsewhere, like podcast appearances and little bits of writing.

MeasureCongress

I'm experimenting with a new concept: a data-driven project focused on Congress and the federal government called MeasureCongress. It is brand new, and very much something I'm still figuring out. But here are a few things I've put together over there:

MeasureCongress

The launch also included the launch of a geographic search engine I created for FCC experimental license applications:

Introducing Spectrum: A Geographic Search Engine for FCC Experimental Licenses
MeasureCongress is proud to announce the alpha release of Spectrum[https://spectrum.measurecongress.com/], our geographic search engine forlocating Federal Communications Commission (FCC) experimental licenses. According to the FCC, each year it grants over 2,000 experimental licenses toprivate …

To demonstrate how the tool can be used for journalism/story-telling, I wrote a sample piece about a small town in Montana where one of the world's largest defense contractors is uneasy neighbors with a small group of wealthy anti-government radicals:

Spectral Geography: Boeing’s Montana Playground
Using data on experimental radio tests, we found a partially abandoned Cold War town shared by one of the world’s largest defense contractors and a small enclave of anti-government radicals.

A quick tutorial on OSINT techniques, aimed largely at journalists. Trying to learn more about making decent tutorials:

OSINT For Journalism: FOIA & Search Engine Operators
Watch this five minute open source intelligence guide to learn advanced search engine operators for journalists.

Next year is probably going to be crazy in government, so I compiled a list of resources for journalists, data scientists and software developers:

A Beginner’s Guide to Congressional Data for 2021
Data-rich resources from around the web on Congress and the Federal Government.

Here is a piece analyzing the government and non-governmental resources cited by the Congressional Research Service ("Congress's think-tank" as they are often called). It analyzes about two thousand reports or so from this year:

A Media Analysis of 2020 Congressional Research Service Reports: Who Does The CRS Cite?
What sources does the Congressional Research Service use to inform lawmakers? We analyzed nearly 2000 CRS reports to find out.

The SolarWinds attack has been on everyone's mind. A quick review of what Congressional Research Service is saying about it, and a few other resources as the story has developed:

What the Congressional Think Tank Is Telling Lawmakers about Cybersecurity
CRS recently informed lawmakers about the SolarWinds attack. No easy answers are in sight, but the issue will be of intense policy interest in 2021.

Another piece examining government analysis, this time on how the pandemic has impacted the drug trade in Mexico:

Congressional Research Service Reviews: Narcotrafficking in Mexico During the Pandemic
COVID-19 has reshaped the global drug trade. Lawmakers will have to contend with a new normal in 2021 that could include synthetic drug production on a new scale, and worsening instability in Mexico.

The Debrief

My friends Tim McMillan, MJ Banias and Micah Hanks have started a new outlet called The Debrief. I've written a few small pieces for them, both on AI:

Here was the first on DeepMind's apparent breakthrough on the protein folding problem:

DeepMind’s AI Makes History By Solving “Protein Folding Problem” - The Debrief
Science, Tech and Defense News for the Rebelliously Curious.

Here is a second piece on the high profile firing of Dr. Timnit Gebru from Google, and on AI ethics more broadly:

Troubling Reason Why the Woman Standing Between Humans and AI Lost Her Job
Science, Tech and Defense News for the Rebelliously Curious.

I also wrote a reaction piece to Tim McMillan's launch article in The Debrief here:

Reaction to ”‘Fast Movers’ and Transmedium Vehicles”
Tim McMillan’s latest in The Debrief offers several important new pieces ofinformation[https://www.thedebrief.org/fast-movers-and-transmedium-vehicles-the-pentagons-uap-task-force/]: * There have been extremely high level briefings on UAP with the Department of Defense, to include the Secret…

Podcasts

Somewhere In The Skies

On Ryan Sprague's program Somewhere In The Skies, we talked about recent UFO news, including some misplaced concern going around that Trump's potential veto of NDAA would imperil the ability of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee to carry through on their request to DNI. We talked about a few interesting developments. At the time, Ryan saw a very rough draft of what would become "Answering Who Else Knows," so we touched on a few key points there. We talked a bit about the frustrations of working in this field, and how naval issues appear to be increasingly important. We also touched on my piece about chronic illness, "Magnetar."

Micah Hanks Program

Amazingly, Micah and I had never really talked before this month. We corrected that mistake with a really good conversation about AI, science fiction, and UFOs:

12.07.20. Strategic Doubt: UAP Theory with Dr. Adam Kehoe - The Micah Hanks Program
This week Adam Kehoe Ph.D. joins us to share his scientific perspectives on questions about the UFO phenomenon.

I think my favorite thing about this conversation was about how science fiction writers tend to imagine individual developments, but rarely combine them. For example, many science fiction writers anticipated a moon landing. Many anticipated television. Very few, if any, wrote about audiences watching a moon landing on television. This is an old insight; I think it might have come from a conversation between Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison and Asimov. It remains an important observation. Here is that talk:

Presidential History

I got either a great idea or a terrible idea in late November (before saying goodbye to Twitter):

True to my word, I read John Ferling's wonderful biography of Adams. My wife referred to me as Leslie Knope no less than four times since November 20. To take a cue from Adams, I like to say I'm John Yankee, through and through.

I tried to develop my own take on the character of the man and what I learned reflecting about his life here:

Will John Adams Ever Be Able to Live With Himself? (Part 1)
Recently I developed a harebrained idea: why not read a biography of every U.S.president, in chronological order? > I’m embarking on a weird project: I’d like to try to read a decent single volumeaccount of every US president, in order. I pretty recently read something aboutWashington, so John A…

God help me, Jefferson is next.

Upcoming Research

There will be a steady stream of stuff coming through MeasureCongress. James Curry's "Legislating in the Dark" has been really fascinating and will likely influence some new work.

Also been trying to do some reading about journalism generally. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm not a journalist – but I do find myself writing about current events more and more. So I want to honor and learn from journalists as much as possible, and also try to better understand what has gone wrong in the news trade recently. Here are the first three books I'm working through:

I can't say enough for "Democracy's Detectives" – an absolutely phenomenal read. Probably more on that later.

In UFO world, I'm waiting on a cache of Russian materials to arrive so I can work on translating them. Transnational shipping is not exactly quick these days. In the meantime, I'm working on some other documents that have surfaced since "Answering 'Who Else Knows'".

Answering “Who Else Knows”
To find out more about Luis Elizondo’s resignation, I contacted him for an interview. He graciously agreed. I asked him directly, what did you mean by “who else knows?” He responded at length.

Creative Writing

This is probably boring for everyone else, but it is nice to have a log of thoughts and work in progress.

Fiction

I've written a science fiction piece titled "The Image Making Spider." There are two versions; an earlier flash fiction take and a slightly longer, more traditional story that will probably end up with a different title. The flash fiction version is submitted and awaiting probable rejection, the longer version is still in development.

A much longer term project titled The Summer Fossil Record has been resurrected. I know so little about the practical end of getting fiction published, but putting things online is apparently a bad idea. Plus, this blog is largely non-fiction. So, no links for now.

I've been reading and thinking more about the craft of writing since I've been doing more of it lately. For example, I picked up "The Story Grid" by veteran editor Shawn Coyne. I found it useful. I think many would probably object that it is too proscriptive, but there is a treasure trove of useful stuff there. Useful beyond just fiction; it is definitely part of my thinking now in terms of non-fiction writing.

The conversation about genre was surprising. I thought I was writing a science fiction novel, but by Coyne's criteria it is arguably a Western/Romance. Except, deeply weird. Instead of the Western frontier, it is set in the Adirondack mountains in my home state of New York.

Whatever the genre, Coyne's ideas helped me get unstuck for the first time in awhile, so I mention it here in the hopes it might help someone else, too.

I had some pause in even discussing fiction writing here. Who cares? Probably no one. But, I think there is some value in working on different things. Without more journalistic writing, I don't think I'd be finding my way back to fiction. And without studying fiction, I don't think I'd be exposed to ideas about plot and structure that are useful in non-fiction. Too often, I think we're all a little scared to show the real messiness of our interests. And heck, this is a blog – may as well be honest.

A secret between you and me: this novel is based on Saranac Lake. A place I think about too regularly given that I've only been there a few times. I spent a lot of time in the Adirondacks as a young person, but mostly in the southern end of the region. The Adirondacks are so large that Saranac Lake was still a two hour drive from my old haunts.

Baker Mountain, NY

The Summer Fossil Record has a character, Henry, who operates a cursed hardware store. In the pocket dimension he occupies, people play a puzzle-like game called "The Emperor's Taxes" that is based on Gaussian elimination of matrices into reduced row echelon form. The puzzle comes in different color coded difficulty levels, and you get a little pin if you're in the first two hundred people to complete the monthly workbook. The black pin is a badge of honor only earned by the fastest and most dedicated puzzle-solvers. Henry has the purple pin; the one just below black. If he dreams at night, it is of getting the black pin, someday.

Did I remember to tell you, the novel is arguably a Western/Romance? Don't worry, though. Henry doesn't get into any amorous situations in the current draft.

The street his hardware store is on was inspired by this charming bee-themed insurance company.

The best bee-themed insurance company, visited when professional hair cuts were still possible

Poetry

Skeleton

Witnessing your unsightly varieties

Your misplaced tendons and sinews,

I can hear the lake but I can't see you.

Just your skeleton dancing beside the fire

A lovely, treacherous shadow painted on the grass

And the wake your skin left in our cold air