How planes fly over the Atlantic Ocean

If you’re interested in how it is that, without radar available to air traffic control, airplanes can fly over the Atlantic Ocean without flying into each other, this video from NATS about the Shanwick OCA is a fascinating one.

The video features a walkthrough of an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Boston, EIN137.  In a delightful coincidence, last night around midnight the return Boston-Dublin flight, EIN138, flew over Prince Edward Island at 37,000 feet:

EIN138 flies over PEI

Prince Edward Island School Calendar, 2015-2016

I’ve again taken the official Prince Edward Island School Calendar and updated a set of public calendar files to make it easier for parents and others to shunt the information around their digital devices. Here you go:

(Note for those of you who already had the 2013-2014 and/or 2014-2015 School Calendasr integrated into your digital devices: you don’t need to do anything, as those addresses haven’t changed from last year).

As a member of the School Calendar Committee for the PEI Home and School Federation I again asked to have the official calendar released as structured data by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development itself, but as yet this (still) hasn’t happened.

Detecting Aircraft in Charlottetown

Longtime readers may recall that, starting three years ago, I’ve been running an AIS receiving station here in the Reinventorium in downtown Charlottetown, listening to the automated ships location broadcasts for Charlottetown Harbour and pushing the data to MarineTraffic.com.

It turns out that where ships broadcast AIS (Automatic Identification System), airplanes broadcast ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) and, like AIS, these broadcasts are in the clear and can be received by any old radio capable of received on the ADS-B frequency.

Like, for example, the NooElec NESDR Nano SDR & DVB-T USB Stick that I bought for $18 last fall to support my electricity meter reading project. It was manufactured as a European digital TV receiver, but, under the hood, it’s a software-defined radio capable of receiving radio from 25MHz to 1700MHz.

What’s more, just as MarineTraffic.com aggregates AIS reports, FlightAware.com aggregates ADS-B reports, and it has a Raspberry Pi distribution that makes sending data their way as easy as burning an SD card.

So, of course, I built one.

PiAware in the Reinventorium

You can follow along on my FlightAware status page, which lists flights detected in various formats.

And sure enough, the system worked: here’s what Sunwing Flight 351 from Cuba to Charlottetown looked like on the local status page as it was coming in to land this afternoon just before 4:00 p.m.:

Sunwing 351

And here’s flight RRR4520 flying at 27,000 feet high above the Valleyfield Road:

It all seems like magic. But it’s just radio waves.

The Guardian goes #FF5900

The Charlottetown Guardian unveiled its new design this morning, part of a redesign of all of parent company TC Media’s local newspapers called “Project Orange” internally. On the left is Saturday’s pre-redesign cover; on the right is this morning’s newly-orange front:

The Guardian Design, before Project Orange

It’s an interesting – and somewhat bizarre – move to paint all the company’s papers with the same orange brush (the exception is the Journal-Pioneer in Summerside which is turning blue instead of orange), especially given that one of The Guardian’s strengths locally has always been that, despite its rotating cast of parent companies, it’s always been strongly identified as a local paper, not an “outlet” of a corporate brand.

That this morning’s Guardian looks an awful lot like this morning’s Telegram in far-away St. John’s might make sense of some sort of corporate synergasm way, but I’m not sure why it’s required or even preferable when looked at from the ground. Doesn’t our community deserve a newspaper designed and built by Islanders for Islanders? What’s the upside for the reader in brand unification?

There’s also the issue of the web and the attention span: the redesign brings with it a collection of the short and snappy – the “quick questions” and the “things to know” and related factoid boxes – and an aversion to the beautiful grey expanse of type the defined The Guardian – and newspapers in general – for a good part of their lifetime. The aversion to grey isn’t new here, of course, and it’s not unique to TC Media: big photos and fact boxes have been a part of The Guardian’s recent incarnations, albeit to a less dramatic extent.

Philosophically I’m on a different page from where newspaper design is heading; I think the reaction to the web should be to go long and go deep and go grey and go big. In that I am, alas, perhaps alone. But man was 1964 ever a great year for newspaper design on Prince Edward Island:

1964 Guardian Front

The Rise of the Cyberneticists: The Return of Systems Thinking to Prince Edward Island Politics

In his book The Human Use of Human Beings, first published in 1950, author Norbert Weiner describes his coining of the term cybernetics:

Until recently, there was no existing word for this complex of ideas, and in order to embrace the whole field by a single term, I felt constrained to invent one. Hence “Cybernetics,” which I derived from the Greek word kubernetes, or “steersman,” the same Greek word from which we eventually derive our word “governor.”

He goes on to elaborate:

It is the purpose of Cybernetics to develop a language and techniques that will enable us indeed to attack the problem of control and communication in general, but also to find the proper repertory of ideas and techniques to classify their particular manifestations under certain concepts.

It was impossible not to think of cybernetics while watching Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s address to senior provincial public servants yesterday, The Premier as Public Servant Leader.

In his address, MacLauchlan clearly demonstrates that he is, at heart, a cyberneticist – a “steersman,” if you will – and that he views his role as Premier to manage a complex system of people, resources, and motivations to, as he references several times, “move the trend lines” of prosperity, demographics, revenue, and expenses.

The Premier’s construction of “ten lenses” through which policy will be regarded – collegial, people, prosperity, engagement, ethical, strategic, rural, frugality, entrepreneurial, small is big – surely equips his office, and his government, with a set of tuned “organs” that Weiner describes:

Much of this book concerns the limits of communication within and among individuals. Man is immersed in a world which he perceives through his sense organs. Information that he receives is co-ordinated through his brain and nervous system until, after the proper process of storage, collation, and selection, it emerges through effector organs, generally his muscles. These in turn act on the external world, and also react on the central nervous system through receptor organs such as the end organs of kinaesthesia; and the information received by the kinaesthetic organs is combined with his already accumulated store of information to influence future action.

This approach to Prince Edward Island as a cybernetically-governable system is echoed when MacLauchlan discusses his “strategic lens”:

The first role of the premier as a public servant leader is to identify strategic priorities and communicate them to the public service and the entire community. Without prosperity, we do not have a pretty future. Economic growth must be our top priority. With prosperity, our demographic trend lines will adjust, with the right strategic efforts and policies, to reflect the fact that we are retaining, repatriating and recruiting a younger, talented and entrepreneurial population.

These strategic priorities, prosperity and population, will be reflected across government. They are not a substitute for commitments to deliver services such as health, education, social assistance or environmental stewardship. However, if we cannot grow the economy and rejuvenate our population, our ability to deliver services in other areas will become increasingly stressed.

The premier’s leadership role, in addition to identifying strategic priorities, is to ask the right questions, repeatedly. I think of this as a Socratic form of leadership. Specifically, I will be heard to ask regularly, in response to proposed initiatives: Where’s the growth? How will we measure the return on investment? What does this do to change our demographic trend lines?

In saying this, MacLauchlan echoes Weiner’s description of the role of information in cybernetics:

Information is a name for the content of what is exchanged with the outer world as we adjust to it, and make our adjustment felt upon it. The process of receiving and of using information is the process of our adjusting to the contingencies of the outer environment, and of our living effectively within that environment. The needs and the complexity of modern life make greater demands on this process of information than ever before, and our press, our museums, our scientific laboratories, our universities, our libraries and textbooks, are obliged to meet the needs of this process or fail in their purpose. To live effectively is to live with adequate information. Thus, communication and control belong to the essence of man’s inner life, even as they belong to his life in society.

The Premier’s “What does this do to change our demographic trend lines?” is Weiner’s “the information received by the kinaesthetic organs is combined with his already accumulated store of information to influence future action.”

MacLauchlan is not alone in being a cyberneticist; newly-elected leader of the PC Party, Rob Lantz, is, both by inclination, chosen career as a digital worker, and demonstrated action as a member of Charlottetown City Council, a cyberneticist in his own right.

While his convention speech this weekend at the PC Party Leadership Convention was for a political audience, not a public service one, and therefore was less finely drawn than MacLauchlan’s address to the public service, Lantz demonstrated evidence of his own cybernetic approach to governance:

Lantz, like MacLauchlan, speaks of the twin pressures of demography and prosperity, and positions himself as a “problem solver”:

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, nobody does, but I’m a problem solver, I know how to listen, I know how to weigh the evidence, analyze the facts, and I know how to make decisions… It’s time for hard work, smart decisions, humility and listening. It’s time for building on our strengths and tackling our weaknesses.

That’s political rhetoric for a political audience, yes, but combined with the evidence of Lantz’s approach to government on city council, an approach that was generally regarded as open and collaborative, it suggests that he would be well-equipped to be a manager, a filter, an amplifier of the type of “messages” that Weiner writes about:

Messages are themselves a form of pattern and organization. Indeed, it is possible to treat sets of messages as having an entropy like sets of states of the external world. Just as entropy is a measure of disorganization, the information carried by a set of messages is a measure of organization. In fact, it is possible to interpret the information carried by a message as essentially the negative of its entropy, and the negative logarithm of its probability. That is, the more probable the message, the less information it gives. Clichés, for example, are less illuminating than great poems.

I had a spirited discussion yesterday with a good friend with a deep knowledge of Island politics; I suggested to her that Lantz and MacLauchlan were opposites: Lantz the digital tradesman, MacLauchlan the intellectual, Lantz the self-styled realist, MacLauchlan the self-styled optimist. She reminded me that Lantz and MacLauchlan are, in far more ways, cut from exactly the same cloth. What she meant was that they are both men, both well-off, both from “strong Island stock,” and so forth.

And of course she was right: they are more alike than they are different.

And perhaps in no way more so than their shared vision of Prince Edward Island as a system that can be managed and, what’s more, a system they are capable of managing.

While it might seem self-evident that anyone putting themselves forward to be premier would necessarily regard themselves in this light, there is less evidence to suggest that Prince Edward Island premiers-recent – Ghiz, Binns, Milligan, Callbeck – viewed themselves as tacticians to the extent that MacLauchlan and Lantz do, as tacticians able to – through collaboration, analysis, planning, and action – “move the trend lines” to such an extent that Prince Edward Island emerges from their tenure substantially changed.

This is not to suggest that our recent premiers have been do-nothings, simply that their approach has drawn from different approaches to leadership and governance, ones not so seemingly-rooted in notions of systems theory: there have been substantial rearrangements to specific parts of Island society over the last two decades, but they have been more “strategic” in nature than “systemic.”

The last time the Island was governed by a premier with this approach was from 1966 to 1978, the tenure of Alex B. Campbell, a man MacLauchlan has studied closely. Campbell’s Comprehensive Development Plan was nothing if not the product of a cyberneticist. As MacLauchlan relates in his book on Campbell:

With the signing of the Comprehensive Development Plan in March 1969, things changed for Campbell and his government – and for Prince Edward Islanders. In a February television address, Premier Campbell spoke with Islanders about the difference the CDP would make, telling them that this “may be our last chance to provide a future for this province.” He went on to say that PEI’s economic and financial condition was “precarious” and that stop-gap remedies and short-term policies “will no longer service the purpose.”

In other words, Campbell was suggesting that the Island’s future demanded planned, systematic change. You will find shadows of Campbell in both MacLauchlan and Lantz inasmuch as they both regard the Island, as Campbell did, as a system in need of substantial adjustment, and they both have confidence that this adjustment can be carried out through a careful process of adjusting systems, controls, and messages.

What is different this time around from the Campbell era is that while in the late 1960s Campbell saw a need to import systems expertise from off-Island, both Lantz and MacLauchlan see the resources they need to marshal in the people who are here already. This suggests that their comprehensive plans for the development of the Island, while they might share the same confidence in cybernetics as Campbell’s, will be enacted in a way that’s more homegrown and locally rooted.

I am myself a cyberneticist at heart, and so it should go without saying that I greet the renewed ascendance of the cybernetic mindset with considerable optimism, especially as it appears to cross party lines and so, one way or the other, is likely to underpin the next generation of PEI politics.

These are interesting times.