Saturday, June 7, 2008

Changes To SAM (Feedback Welcome!)

Astute readers of SAM will note that I have been moving stuff around over the last several weeks on the blog. I have added a couple of new features and shifted stuff around based on my perceptions of your (the reader's) interests. I would welcome any feedback you might have...

All the posts will remain on the left-hand side of the page. I added the Madkast feature a while back to make it easier for readers to share the posts. For example, about 18 people used Madkast to share the post about Dan Mulligan returning from Iraq. It also gives some useful statistics on the top three stories on any given day so it seems like a good tool for the both of us.

I know I use a tons of tags and the tag list has gotten pretty long. Blogger won't let me edit the list in a useful way. I am pretty sure, however, that this is the way some of the search engine spiders find the site, so I probably will continue to use tags even though they don't seem to be of too much use to individual readers.

The right hand column of the blog is where things have changed most, though. The biggest problem I have is deciding what to put at the top of that column. I am well aware that many people don't scroll down so the space "above the fold" (to use an old newspaper term), or above the bottom of the screen, is prime real estate. I really want the most useful stuff up at the top and the admin or lesser stuff at the bottom.

Right now I have two features that I like but am considering moving down the list. The first is "Save Page As PDF". This is a "nice to have" feature in my estimation. It does nothing for me but I have seen where other bloggers recommend it as a useful tool for readers. On any given day a number of you use it but it does not seem to be too terribly popular. Not sure it belongs at the top of the column but I am pretty sure that if I move it below the fold, then no one will use it all.

I also have a capability to subscribe to the blog via email using RSSFwd. This allows people to get the posts sent straight to their email accounts. I am assuming that this is a useful feature for some people. The service gives me no feedback so I have no way of knowing.

I have added a feature by AideRSS that I really like that keeps a running tab of the top five stories in a given week. It calculates what is a "top" post through a complicated algorithm that includes the number of comments on, links to and bookmarks of a certain post. Since I try to post every day and sometimes two or three times a day, things come and go pretty fast. For those people who only check the blog once a week or so, this seems to be a good way to check out what has been posted -- well, what has been posted and popular at any rate. I like AideRSS because it is really simple to use and provides me with detailed feedback on which posts people are reading. That lets me craft future posts. Again, a tool that seems to be working for me and for you.

My favorite new feature is SAM's Shared Items which is function of Google Reader. I began using Google Reader recently as my RSS feed reader. I had been using the live bookmarks feature of Firefox but once I got to 60 daily RSS feeds, I knew it was time to migrate to a reader. I wish I had done it sooner. Google provides a whole host of tools for making feed reading faster and more useful. One of the neatest tools is the ability to share certain articles with other people. Google does this by letting you designate the article and then it creates a shared items website for your stuff. Since it is a website, it also puts off its own RSS feed, which makes it trivially easy to add a widget to a blog to get the feed to dump anywhere you want.

The net effect is that I go through 60 feeds a day (300-400 items), cull the ones that I think are the best or most interesting and then share them through the SAM's Shared Items box on the blog. I see much more good stuff than I can write posts about and this makes it easy to get this good stuff on the site. All this, hopefully, makes for one stop shopping for you. It is a new feature but I am already starting to see some activity with it.

I really like Top Posts This Week and SAM's Shared Items because they are dynamic. One will change more slowly than the blog itself (Top Posts This Week) and one will change more quickly than the blog (SAM's Shared Items). I like the symmetry...

The next thing is the Mercyhurst Student Projects. These are impressive projects that I have talked about on the blog. I would like to get these even higher up the page but they don't change very often.

The Intelligence News feature is another section I have considered deleting. It is just a Google News feed based on the word "intelligence". It is dynamic and I like that but the results (particularly, as I am told, in foreign countries) are not always very relevant.

Links of Interest is my blogroll and it is not going anywhere. These are almost all people who have supported me or helped as I got this blog set up. Cheers to you all!

The rest of the left hand column is stuff about me and admin stuff (like the archive and the tag list). Personally, my instincts are too be much more private but I understand the issue of credibility in the blogosphere. If I am not willing to share some details about myself (particularly when I am pretty easy to find anyway), why should anyone put any stock in what I have to say? As a result of this logic and a strong belief in online publishing for academics, I am putting as many of my papers on Scribd as possible and intend to try to make much more of my content freely available on this site. I hope, for example, in the next 6 months or so, to come out with a revised edition of The Warning Solution and make it freely available here for download.

All this is probably a bit more detail than you needed but that's why I saved it for Saturday! I, of course, will be interested in any feedback.

Friday, June 6, 2008

World Port Index (NGA)

Its not like they have made it easy to find, but the NGA has an excellent resource on world ports online. The World Port Index provides detailed information about every port in the world. Once you get to the site, it is very easy to use. There is even a downloadable version for the desktop and an MS Access version for even quicker searching. I wish that they had integrated the database with a mapping tool (anyone want to try to take the data to Google Earth?). I am sure that this would be useful to the national security guys but I can also see DEA or even competitive intel professionals using the site. My students will definitely find it useful for their projects. All in all, pretty cool if you need port info.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Part 4 -- Other Sources For Events Information (Mapping The Future)

Over the last several days I have been blogging about the excellent CSIS report called Mapping The Future. In addition, I have been talking about a project my grad students in Intelligence Communications completed that was very similar in scope to the CSIS project. I covered the comparisons and lessons learned for intelligence analysts and for classroom instruction in earlier posts and today I just wanted to wrap up with a list of a few events sites that we found useful:

ElectionGuide. The International Foundation For Electoral Systems maintains an excellent list/guide on presidential and legislative elections worldwide.

When-is. While it is not entirely clear who owns the site, When-is does a very good job of keeping track of various religious holidays, particularly those where the exact date changes from year to year.

ConferenceAlerts. Based out of South Africa, the site keeps track of academic conferences worldwide.

EventsEye. This is a trade show and other business events directory based out of France.

World Events Guide. This site claims to cover all sorts of events but we found it to be best for cultural or entertainment type events.

If you know of a good one I have left out, please post it to the comments!

Related Posts:
Part 1 -- Mapping The Future
Part 2 -- Events From A Geographical Perspective
Part 3 -- Events From A Topical Perspective

Online Readings In Psychology And Culture (Western Washington University via LII)

Routinely, on the lists and blogs to which I subscribe, someone will bring up a topic that involves the psychology of a particular culture. Typically, one person will make a recommendation based on a western notion of the issue under discussion and then someone will ask the quite legitimate question, "Yes, but is this how they think about it?"

The good professors at Western Washington University's Center For Cross-Cultural Research have gone a long way towards providing an answer. They have put together an online textbook in psychology and culture that should probably be the source of first resort to help answer these vexing questions. The text breaks this complex issue down into 16 units, provides an introduction at the beginning of each of the units and then includes the full text of critical studies and journal articles that address the issues covered by the particular unit (Note: I found the link to the site through the always useful Librarian's Internet Index -- another source I recommend).

The interface is clean and easy to use. One could easily imagine this as a typical edited collection gathering dust on a library shelf. Put into this online format, all this good research is likely to actually get used. Kudoes to the editors and staff of the Center For Cross-Cultural Research for breaking away from the ordinary (I sure hope their tenure committees take notice as well...).

Mercyhurst Intel Prof Back From Iraq (Erie Times News)

Dan Mulligan, who teaches business and competitive intelligence here at Mercyhurst, was recently called to active duty and has been in Iraq for the last five months. He is home on leave and the Erie Times News did a story on him and what he has been up to since he left.

I don't want to speak for Dan, but the story in the paper seemed a bit more dramatic than the version we heard sitting around the table yesterday (The Press...what can you do?). Still, it was good to see him.

Mercyhurst alums and students might be wondering about the reference to "rubrics" in the story. Yes, Dan had them translate the same rubric we use here in the Intel Writing and Intel Communications classes and, yes, he is teaching the Iraqis how to write SFARs. Yoikes!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Part 3 -- Events From A Topical Perspective (Mapping The Future)

For the last two days, I have been posting about some excellent research that CSIS has done with their Mapping the Future Project and about some equally interesting work my own students have done along those same lines. In both cases, the goal was to look out several years and identify those events, dates and anniversaries that had potential to have significant meaning or produce significant outcomes of national security interest.

In the case of my students, I divided them into two teams. The first team examined the data from a geographical standpoint and the second team, which I will discuss today, looked at events from the standpoint of specific topics of interest (e.g. political events, cultural events, economic events, etc. -- see full list below and don't forget to scroll side to side as well as up and down).

The list here is much more extensive than the one I provided yesterday (or the CSIS list, for that matter) mainly because the students built this one over the course of the term. They have added a good bit more detail and a number of interesting features including the primary source for information on the event and their own evaluation of how, specifically, the event will impact national security (using the US National Security Strategy as a guide for their evaluation criteria).

I have highlighted those events that were in the CSIS list in boldface. Those that were in both the CSIS list and the geographical list from yesterday are in bold and italics. Events just in italics were on the two team's lists but not on the CSIS list. What amazes me is the way the simple change in perspective results in very different lists. I recommend this two team approach to virtually any intel classroom project. It is one thing to say that what you see and how you analyze depends on where you stand; it is another thing to actually experience it.

Tomorrow -- Other Sources For Event Information

Related Posts:
Part 1 -- Mapping The Future
Part 2 -- Events From A Geographical Perspective

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Part 2 -- Events From A Geographical Perspective (Mapping The Future)

Yesterday, I posted a link to and comments on CSIS's excellent Mapping The Future project. That project sought to highlight events in the next 5 years that are both relatively certain to happen and should impact our world in varying but significant ways. At the same time, I mentioned that my own students had serendipitously done a similar exercise (only looking out 36 months, however) in my Intelligence Communications class. I divided that class into two teams with one team looking at future events from a geographic perspective and the other team looking at events from a topical (i.e. political, cultural, etc) perspective.

Today, I am posting the results from the geographical team's analysis. What you see below is their top findings (they actually covered a good many more events but I did not have time to type them up) for each of the regions. Note: The boldfaced items are items which were mentioned in both the CSIS report and in the geographical team's report. In addition to the region, the event and the date of the event, I have also included a brief version of their estimate regarding the most important outcome of that event. Obviously, I have tried to capture their bottomlines in the fewest words possible and, if I have failed in my attempt to summarize their findings, the fault is all mine.

The students were particularly taken with the degree to which China will likely be involved in many of these events. In fact, that was their overall finding: "Analysis of events within the next 36 months indicates that China's global power is highly likely to increase...While the economic interests are predominant, political and social elements also underlie these events."

The student's also produced a wall chart using I2's Analyst Notebook. You can download the file here but you will need to have either Analyst's Notebook or I2's free Chart Reader to view it.

Related Posts:
Part 1 -- Mapping The Future

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mapping The Future -- Part 1 (CSIS And Original Research)

While some "crises" are unpredictable, many can be easily foreseen. That is because the crisis is clearly associated with a known event. For example, it is possible to predict, if not the exact size and scope, then at least the high likelihood of anti-globalization protests of some kind at virtually any gathering of world leaders. It is with these thoughts in mind, perhaps, that the Global Strategy Institute at the Center For Strategic And International Studies published a "map" of key future events from 2008-2012 late last year.

The Institute itself claims that its intent was to "help us all elevate our thinking beyond today's headlines and to anticipate the competing obstacles and opportunities we can expect to navigate in the future." The interactive version of the map highlights events in science, politics, conferences, forecasts, construction, sports and other importnat anniversaries and shows where they intersect in time. The pdf version of the map (the screenshot below is taken from that version) shows much the same thing but without the explanations regarding the events.

While this map is very interesting (and worth detailed study), what is even more interesting, to me, at least, is that I gave my graduate students in my Intelligence Communications class much the same assignment back in early March. We did not discover the CSIS map until mid-May and, therefore, they did their study independent of the CSIS study. Their goal was much the same, however: Identify important events where the date could be reasonably well determined, catalog them and then analyze and rank order them with respect to their potential impact on US national security.

What makes this even more interesting is that I do not have just one data set to compare with the CSIS study -- I have two! I divided the class into two sections. One looked at the issue from a purely geographic framework (i.e. they divided up the world by continents and looked at events in each) and the other group divided up the world by topics (such as political, economic, etc) and looked at events from that perspective.

(A couple of notes about the Intelligence Communications class. First, it is not a class about world events. It is a class designed to teach students how to communicate in written and oral forms the results of their intelligence analysis to senior decisionmakers. It is first and foremost a writing and briefing class. In order to give the students something real to write and brief about, however, I pick a new topic each term. Last term, I picked world events. Second, I usually divide the class into two teams and require them to look at a similar target from different perspectives. For example, during the winter term of this last school year, we looked at organized crime in Europe from the perspective of police looking at criminals and from the perspective of criminals looking at police. I find that the difference in perspective, even when minor, always results in different analyses at the end of the class even though both teams are always working on the same fundamental intelligence requirements. As an exercise, it really helps drive home the point about perspective in intelligence analysis).

The CSIS study does not explicitly highlight US national security interests as the focal point of the study but it does seem to have that at least partially in mind when it states, "Our goal is to paint a picture of what the landscape will look like when the new president takes office and to identify the major signposts we can anticipate." Nor does the CSIS study explicitly rank-order the events in order of importance. Still, the projects were very similar in scope; certainly similar enough to invite some comparisons.

Tomorrow -- The Geographical Perspective