Greater transparency and community involvement

An interesting new site popped up called OpenBermuda.com, dedicated to promoting open data practices at all levels in Bermuda.  It goes along the lines of encouraging greater use of technology to promote better governance and open philosophies.  Along that vein I’m reminded of another site, Uservoice.com which many top companies are beginning to use as a means to gather, organize and coordinate ideas and feedback.  I’ve setup Bermuda.uservoice.com as a place where you can take advantage of this technology, throw up your ideas and vote for those of others.  Give it a shot and while you do, think of the possibilities such technology could have if our local political parties and government embraced it as a means to better coordinate and gather feedback.

OpenBermuda.com goes along the lines of what some have been advocating for Bermuda for quite some time, namely greater transparency, openness and involvement of the people in the governance and development of our island.  Quite unfortunately however, most of those presently holding political stature in Bermuda fail to really appreciate why we need greater transparency and public involvement, or if not why, fail to understand how it actually works.  It’s not really their fault per-say as simply many who have grown up with technology and the internet have been exposed to a whole different way of not only communicating with the world, but also thinking and approaching problems.  For those to whom technology isn’t second nature, appreciating an ‘open’ mindset and philosophy can take a bit more time.

For example, one of the criticisms against greater transparency and involvement of the common person is that things can become much harder to manage.  People tend to fear the cumbersome process of trying to involve everyone in a decision, keep everyone in the loop and getting everyone on board an idea to move in a single direction.  Quite unfortunately, far too often when you try to coordinate a group of people there are far too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.  It can be chaotic and frustrating when you’re trying to mobilze action as it takes a great deal of effort to get people all moving in the same direction without being second guessed constantly.  Thus, traditionalists tend to heavily resist any movements towards such openness and transparency because they feel putting power in the hands of a crowd results in mob rule.  While sometimes this can be the case, it doesn’t have to be.

Modern technology is changing how we approach communication and governance.  Transparency can be as simple as pre-announcing your intentions via the internet for all to see.  Indeed, had Premier Brown been proactively keeping people in the loop on his plans and intentions throughout his term he may well have preempted much of the negative backlash he gets where he has to go back and explain his reasoning and decisions after the fact.  It can seem like more effort to be upfront and open but in the long run it’s far easier to douse wicks before they reach a bomb than try to contain the explosion after they do.

Sites and concepts like Uservoice.com are the next evolution in communication and governance.  They allow leaders of an organization to take what was akin to herding cats and instead produce an easily digestible source of community feedback and ideas.  The concept is pretty simple, each individual is given a finite number of votes which they can allocate to an idea.  They can create ideas and assign their votes to it or they can vote for the ideas of others.  Ideas with the most votes get the highest priority and used in the context of customer service or community organization can produce an incredible engine for coordinating, organizing and mobilizing large groups of people.  It can rather quickly gain a sense of community momentum and support for an idea and give feedback on which ones are the community’s top priority.

As suggested, modern technology has opened a new realm in terms of understanding and appreciating what avenues we can take to improve our governance and involve our community.  OpenBermuda.com looks like an interesting attempt to mobilize greater support using technology and hopefully they’ll succeed at it.  Further can we be looking towards other excellent examples of modern technology out there today that we can utilize to improve our governance, gain greater feedback and provider greater involvement of the people.  As suggested, bermuda.openvoice.com is already up and running, give it a shot and let’s see if it can serve as a viable means of providing feedback and ideas to our community and leadership.

2010 Hurricane Outlook

So far this year we’re looking at the prospect of a very active hurricane season, potentially one of the most active on record.  Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) are so far this year at a record high with the sunspot cycle at a minimum lending itself to large hurricane favoring differences between temperatures in the upper and lower atmospheres.  What will determine the scope of this year’s hurricane season are how strong wind shear remains to prevent development as well as what kind of dust storms come off of Africa and how they impact the formation of low pressure storm centers.

Sea surface temperature anomalies, May 2010.  Image Credit: NOAA

Water temperatures in the Atlantic for the last 3 months have been the warmest on record being 1.46°C above average.

Past hurricane seasons that had high March SST anomalies include 1969 (0.90°C anomaly),2005 (1.19°C anomaly), and 1958 (0.97°C anomaly). These three years had 5, 7, and 5 intense hurricanes, respectively. Just two intense hurricanes occur in an average year. The total averaged activity for the three seasons was 15 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 6 intense hurricanes (an average hurricane season has 10, 6, and 2.)

Compare the above water temperature differences from average for May 13th 2010 to those of last year on May 14th

Sea surface temperature anomalies, May 2009.  Image Credit: NOAA

We’re at present witnessing a weaker Azores-Bermuda high which reduces trade winds causing “less mixing of the surface waters with cooler waters down deep, plus less evaporational cooling of the surface water.”

The SSTs are already as warm as we normally see in July between Africa and the Caribbean, and we have a very July-like tropical wave approaching the Lesser Antilles Islands this weekend.

According to recent research there is a link between sunspot activity, changes in solar energy and the resulting atmospheric temperatures here on earth.  During peak sunspot activity we can have slightly higher solar energy overall but significantly higher UV energy.  During minimum sunspot activity we have lower energy overall a much lower UV energy.  At the moment we’re at the minimum of the 11 year sunspot cycle meaning we’re facing an average of 10% lower UV energy.  However, despite there being lower energy, this actually contributes to more hurricanes, not less.

Why we’ll see more hurricanes for less solar energy comes down to basics of how weather systems work.  At their most basic notion weather systems work to redistribute solar energy.  The sun heats up one area causing molecules to vibrate more rapidly and air to expand.  This is what creates lower density, or “low pressure”.  Areas with cool air remain less active and thus more dense creating “high pressure” zones.  Air naturally tends to move from high pressure areas to low pressure areas which creates wind, develops clouds and can create storms. 

Similarly we can also have differences between the temperatures of the upper and lower atmospheres.  If temperatures closer to the surface to the surface of the earth are warmer and the upper atmosphere cooler, warm air rises.  Often times it’ll follow the path of least resistance and the larger the difference between the upper and lower atmospheres the more chance there is for a significant low pressure center of rising air to form to allow the warm air to rise more rapidly.  Such a low pressure centers are the foundations of tropical storms and hurricanes.  Less sunspots mean less UV energy which directly contributes to heating the Ozone layer.  A cooler Ozone layer contributes to a greater difference in temperature and pressure between the upper and lower layers of the atmosphere, increasing the likelihood of low pressure center development.

However, over the last few years research has discovered that various factors can throw a wrench into hurricane development forecasts and predictions.  These primarily are wind shear and dust storms.  Wind shear is caused by the difference in wind speeds and directions at different levels of the atmosphere.  Pressure differences at each level of the atmosphere develop wind similarly as they do on the surface to move pressure from high to low.  This difference in the winds at different altitudes can impact the development of the low pressure center of a tropical storm or hurricane as it ends up with more resistance for air to rise effectively. 

Saharan Dust, Image Credit: NASA

Saharan Dust, Image Credit: NASA via myweatherlady.com

Dust storms form a part of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), a mass of dry dusty air that can blow off the Saharan Desert in Africa.  Periods of high dust storms can inject warm dry in the middle levels of the atmosphere.  Warm dry air sitting in the middle of the atmosphere can disrupt the flow of warm air at the surface of the earth to the cool areas in the upper atmosphere.  The reason being is that the SAL creates a form of temperature inversion where warmer air is injected above cooler air that lies in the atmospheric layer immediately below.  This prevents the lower air from rising ceasing the development of low pressure storm centers.  What we can note in the image below is that presently the SAL is a bit on the weaker side, though the pocket of strength to the west of the Cape Verde islands shows some potential.

Saharan Air Layer, Image Credit: NOAA

Thus at present it looks like the prospect for this year is that we’re facing a more active than normal hurricane season.  Sea Surface Temperatures set to be extraordinarily high compounded with a low number of sunspots suggest we’ll have considerably active hurricane developments this year.  Only time will tell however what impact wind shear and dust storms from the Sahara will have on hurricane development as they have been known to throw off predictions and expectations in the past.

 

 

Sources:

Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog
http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/archive.html?year=2010&month=05

Current Operational SST Anomaly Charts
http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/ml/ocean/sst/anomaly.html

The Saharan Air Layer and Hurricanes
http://www.myweatherlady.com/2009/09/29/the-saharan-air-layer-and-hurr
icanes/weather/dlbweather/

The Saharan Air Layer suppresses hurricanes
http://www.galvnews.com/blog.lasso?Permalink=0312eccbcb8a5fd8

Tropical Cyclones … A Satellite Perspective
http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/tropic2/#SPECIAL

Taking the high road

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance has been priding themselves on taking the high road in local politics and yet does their phrasing betray them?  In their recent press conference speech on their economic platform they suggest:

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance believes there are four strategic objectives we should employ when managing Bermuda’s economy:

1. Government must make a commitment to achieve a budget surplus over an economic cycle, and work to ensure that current account spending is less than total tax revenues.

2. Government must be transparent and prudent in its spending.

3. Government must, through legislation and policy, facilitate an environment that encourages economic activity, and a further diversification of sources of foreign cash inflows.

4. Government must diversify its sources of tax revenue, and distribute the burden on its citizens more fairly.

(emphasis added)

Note the use of the word “must”?  It’s the kind that puts people on a defensive. 

Imagine you’re my neighbor and I come over to tell you that you must clean up the stuff you left on the sidewalk before someone trips over it and hurts themselves.  Are you likely to do it?  Doubtful.  Even if I’m trying to help save you from a lawsuit or injuring a neighborhood child by using a forceful word like must it’s like I’m ordering you to do it.  You go on the defensive and despite the risks may well ignore my recommendation just in spite. 

Using such a phrasing puts people on the defensive.  It leads down the “our way is the only way” and “we told you so” route that has plagued the United Bermuda Party.  It puts people who voted for the Progressive Labour Party on the defensive because it suggests that it is the way things have to be done in a “my way or the highway” style.  People don’t react well to this kind of approach.

Instead would it have been better to subtly question the PLP’s ability to manage the economy without actually making it about the PLP?  Thus winning more people to your point of view through strategic use of rhetoric such that people are left not only supporting your views but also agreeing with you regardless of who they typically vote for?  As they say in sales, the more often you get people to say yes and agree with you the easier it is to encourage them to buy what you’re selling.

Let’s do a bit of revising and see how things turn out.

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance believes we need to answer four important questions if we’re going to succeed in restoring our economy.

1. Can we manage to make a commitment to achieve a budget surplus over an economic cycle, and work to ensure that current account spending is less than total tax revenues?

2. Can we manage to be transparent and prudent in our spending?

3. Can we manage, through legislation and policy, to facilitate an environment that encourages economic activity, and a further diversification of sources of foreign cash inflows?

4. Can we manage to diversify its sources of tax revenue, and distribute the burden on its citizens more fairly.

Follow that up with whatever kind of Obama-like “yes we can” style dribble that The Alliance seems to like relying on and you’ve accomplished a few things.

Before it was attacking government.  It was putting government and those who voted for them on the defensive.  It was clearly defining BDA as not government and having no prospect of being government.  Is that really the perception they want?

Now it’s not about government and yet subtly is.  It’s about the people regardless of political affiliation.  It’s unifying phrasing and it challenges someone to ask if they can manage to do something.  It’s about getting every individual to ask themselves if we together can achieve these things.  It’s getting people to agree with you even if they don’t yet support you.  Every time someone agrees with you the next time it gets even easier.  

Tell someone they must and you’re oppressive, ask someone if they can manage and you’re challenging their self esteem and ego.  The Bermuda Democratic Alliance is new to the game so we can cut them some slack.  Let’s remember though, they can preach all they like about their ‘core values’ but what really matters is managing perceptions so that those core values don’t seem fake and manufactured.  BDA would do well to do everything they can to emanate and truly be their core values if that’s what they’re going for.  Taking the high road is more than just saying you’re going to do it.

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Getting your message across

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance released their economic platform today and while they get points for effort do they seem to miss the mark in a number of areas?  Unfortunately their actual platform document (aside from the link on their website not supporting Chrome) doesn’t contain the solutions they outline in their press conference speech.  The formatting and design of the document is quite appealing and gets off to a good start but unfortunately some of the graphics are not very clear.

Let’s take the following page as an example.

image

The concept is a good one, show our debt and show how our government is overspending.  Unfortunately the execution of it is less obvious.  There is only a subtle difference in the size of the expenses arrow vs. the income arrow.  Are they also trying to imply that expenses are rising and income is falling?  It’s not obvious.  This understates the severity of the situation. 

Subsequently the stick figures with $25k listed next to them looks more like they’re cheering as having received $25k rather than what the fine print outlines that we’re all about $25k in debt. 

A clearer illustration of our debt, expenses and income would have helped alongside a picture clearly depicting the severity of the burden we face.  Ie, a google search for “clipart person carrying burden” reveals this image which can be purchased in multiple sizes for less than $5.

man carrying the load  Would it have been more illustrative to have put a big dollarsign on the box with an arrow to it outlining the $25k of debt per person with the hill being climbed labeled as “Government overspend”. 

That’s just one example of many possibilities.  When trying to get a message across to people it’s important to note that you only have a matter of seconds to capture their attention.  Subsequently most people don’t have the background to know what you’re trying to say.  To many people $850 million is a meaningless number.  It’s big, but many don’t truly appreciate how big. 

It’s important to put things into a context that people can readily appreciate.  Let’s say government in 12 years in power has accumulated $850 million in debt (not entirely sure what the actual number is).  Equate that to affordable homes at $500k apiece by taking a clipart picture of a home like the one below and put $500k in place of the “For sale”.

Real Estate Clip Art House 1 Royalty Free Stock PhotographyThen show what $850 million worth of affordable homes looks like by drawing out 1700 of them below the larger home image.  Suggest this is how many affordable homes we could have bought with what we’ve already spent in debt and ask how many affordable homes we’ve actually gotten?

There’s value in simplifying a message so that it can be consumed as fast and as easily as possible.    It means people will get it.  Unfortunately if you don’t, there will be a lot of people left scratching their heads wondering what you were trying to say.