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April 10, 2010

Natural disasters and the absence of G-d

I woke up this morning with an odd tweet in my head: Just about everything in the universe is bigger than we are.

I didn’t tweet it because it’s false: There’s an awful lot of dust in the universe. But I was pleasantly surprised to find (via Leiter Reports) an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, by Samuel Newlands, sort of on that topic. It’s about Haiti, Leibniz, and the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is the philosophical way of referring to the fact that an awful lot of bad sh*t happens to innocent people for a world supposedly watched over by a benevolent deity. Traditionally, there are a number of ways to resolve the problem. You can say that people get what they deserve, so that what looks unfair in fact is not. That’s a little hard to square with the death of babies, but people have certainly tried. Then there are the big three properties of G-d: All powerful, all knowing, all loving. Take away one of those three, and you can explain why bad things happen to good people: G-d is powerless to prevent it (Leibniz’s answer, in a clever form), G-d can’t predict it, or G-d just doesn’t care.

If I were to believe in a god, I think the only one I could muster up any loyalty to would be one who created us but not the universe. The Earth looked like a good place to plant us, so the Deity set us down carefully, gave us some useful texts to get us started, and then left us on our own.

Beyond that, it’s a mystery to me. But, then, it’s supposed to be a mystery. After all, most of the universe is bigger than we are.


January 17, 2010

Go meta with your Haitian people-finder via Google

From Chris Csikszentmihaly, Director of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media:


In the response to the earthquake in Haiti, many organizations worked to create sites where people could find one another, or least information about their loved ones. This excellent idea has been undermined by its success: within 24 hours it became clear that there were too many places where people were putting information, and each site is a silo. The site began scraping – mechanically aggregating – the most popular such sites, like and American Red Cross Family Links. As people within the IT community recognized the danger of too many unconnected sites, and Google became interested in helping, they turned their work over to Google which is now running an embeddable application at:

We recognize that many newspapers have put precious resources into developing a people-finder system. We nonetheless urge them to make their data available to the Google project, and standardize on the Google widget. Doing so will greatly increase the number of successful reunions. Data from the google site is currently available as dumps in the standard PFIF format on this page , and an API is being developed, and licensed through Creative Commons. I am not affiliated with Google – indeed, this is a volunteer initiative by some of their engineers – but this is one case where their reach and capacity can help the most people.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the reasoning behind this request. Any questions about the widget or its functionality or features are best directed to Google.

Christopher P. Csikszentmihalyi.
Director, MIT Center for Future Civic Media


January 13, 2010

Help Haiti

What Haiti has been through is unthinkable.

The White House is urging us to contribute through The Red Cross, or to have $10 charged to your cell phone by texting “HAITI” to “90999. It also suggests finding more ways to help through the Center for International Disaster Information.


February 8, 2008

Make your “Buy 2, Get 1” OLPC Laptop into a “Bought 2, Have 0” deal

From Timothy Falconer:

Waveplace is a non-profit starting an XO pilot in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, in ten days. OLPC was going to be giving us laptops, but it fell through, which is why I’m trying to get twenty XOs from elsewhere.

Your laptop may end up in the hands of one of the most needy children in the Western Hemisphere. The school where the laptop will be sent is run by Susie Scott Krabacher, who has been the Mother Theresa of Haiti for 15 years. In fact, a major motion picture is being made about her life right now, based upon her autobiography: Link.

You could really help by agreeing to sell us your laptop. We’ve only got ten days to get the laptops to Miami, as we’re leaving for Haiti on Feb 17th.

To see the kids that will get them, watch this video, which we shot last month: Link

Susie’s organization:Link (click slideshow to see the conditions)

To read an article by Susie from our newsletter: Link

One way or another, we’ll be in Haiti in ten days. Please help us bring more laptops.Please pass the word, and if you have a laptop to sell, click contact on the Waveplace site.

Thank you!

Tim Falconer
Waveplace Foundation

I’m giving them mine.

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