#TWISI: The Way I See It...

This was my Starbucks moment. Allegedly 5m of these were manufactured  -- but I guess it takes more than coffee cup slogans to change the world.   It occurs to me that quotes like these could work quite well on Twitter. For one thing they're short enough, for another #TWISI (short for The Way I See It) is a natural Twitter tag.  

Anyone have one to offer? (Does not have to be as earnest as the above! Funny, insightful, punchy... all good.)  If we can get five decent ones, we'll unleash them on Twitter...  ...and maybe @Starbucks will join the fun.  It's a little Twitter version of "ideas worth spreading".  Limit suggestions to about 100 characters to allow for tag and retweeting.  You could also link to a longer post elsewhere, but the core quote needs to be strong!

Pendulum paintings of Tom Shannon

I'm a huge fan of sculptor & painter Tom Shannon, a gentle genius who turns science into art and art into science.  We just posted today his 2003 TED talk showing his gorgeous science-inspired sculptures and his vision for the Air Genie video airship.  In the last few months he has returned to a form of painting he invented more than 20 years ago.  He created a mechanized paint dispenser that is suspended on a giant pendulum over a canvas on the floor.   Tom sets the pendulum in motion, typically on an oval pathway, and then uses a remote control device to select with careful precision which paints are streamed onto the canvas and in what quantity.  

At his Manhattan studio the other evening, I watched him in action.  The results are spectacular. He's given me permission to share some of these images, none of which are up on his site yet.  They are to be the subject of an exhibition in New York later this year. (Watch this space).

The future of newspapers

Prompted by the following conversation on Twitter this morning...

2020science: Rumours of a Large-screen Kindle - a lifeline for print media? http://bit.ly/XzRGb Mixed feelings on this!
Me: Newspaper publishers clinging on to the wrong vision of their future. Display size is not the issue. 
2020science:  Agree, but would love your take on what the issues are Re: the future of "print" media

(OK, deep breath...)

Me: The key issues: 
- Broken business model.
- Glacial pace of adoption of web opportunities. 
- Denial.

When the news depended on having to cut down trees, stamp ink on them and truck them around the country, only a few could play. The lucky few thrived on monopoly pricing.

Now that cost of distribution is zero, everyone can play, and the world's attention will increasingly be divided into millions of much smaller slices.  There is zero chance that the massive work-forces of journalists, editors and photographers paid for to date by commercial organizations can be maintained.  Online audiences of the big brands can certainly be large... larger than they ever were in print, and larger than much of their online competition... but nonetheless not nearly as dominant as they were in the old world.  Therefore they cannot be monetized to anything like the same degree.  A bigger screen with fancy layouts won't help. The size of newspapers was driven by economics of printing, not by inherent reader desire for giant pages. 

To have a chance at surviving the big newspapers (and TV news channels) will have to:
a) slash costs, including editorial numbers.
b) do a far better job of using the amazing tools available online, such as crowd-sourcing and curation (vs creation).  This means recognizing the incredible asset that their reader-bases represent and taking them seriously.  Hello? It's the participation age. 

Honestly, the biggest problem for a lot of media companies is that their DNA is still "We're the experts at this. Why would we accept content from our, shudder, readers?!"  Instead they should be using whatever remains of their brand value to start making heroes of their more talented readers, who will be all too willing to work for nothing but the glory of publication/visibility.  They'll be amazed at what this could bring them. 

So instead of, a national newspaper with, say, 600 journalists + 3m readers, you may end up with maybe 100 super-insightful news curators, columnists and analysts, aided by 10,000 citizen journalists/contributors/posters/commenters (and the new package will quite possibly reach 50m+ readers).  It's a painful prospect for many... but I suspect the only hope for survival.  (And the resultant editorial package might just end up being richer, more detailed, more varied, more inclusive, and... dare one say it? ...better!)

"But who will pay for foreign news bureaus, quality news gathering, etc.?" 

1) Today there's massive duplication
2) Some of the role can be taken up and possibly improved by carefully filtered citizen journalism... though the models for that not yet proven.
3) More importantly, in the long run I suspect basic news reporting will be regarded as a fundamental infrastructure of a democratic society and treated the same way as roads, water and electricity.  It'll be publicly funded and/or subsidized by visionary non-profit foundations. The dear old BBC is not a bad model. 

Indeed stripping away the commercial overload may end up being a fantastic public good.  You can make a powerful case that the commercial media we have are inadvertently guilty of fundamentally misrepresenting the world.  (I argued this here.) We could lose a lot in the coming years of inevitable media job-losses and restructurings... but we could also figure out a much better way.

P.S. Steven Johnson's views on this topic are pretty compelling. 

5 interesting alternatives to text captchas

Captchas, the bot-blocking verification devices that make you copy  a set of fuzzy letters for security before registering on a site, are getting more and more annoying. Thanks to the increasing intelligence of  character recognition technology, we're being expected to strain our eyes to make out whether something is a Q or an O, a J or an I, upper or lower case, and so forth. What, for example, is this?  Words? I don't think so.

There's been a lot of talk in the past few months of alternative ideas involving object recognition... the idea being that humans do this much better than computers.  Here are five promising approaches.

(...but as described this idea vulnerable to straight guesses.  Spammers will take 1 in 9 attempts as success.)

(...addresses problem in the above, but - as executed here - some rotations hard to match even for humans.)

(Need to see wider variety of pics to judge.)

(Strikes me as both fun and exceptionally hard for a spam-bot to break... except by guessing right 1 time in 40,000.)

(This predates the others and to a layman seems ingenious. Michael tells me his patent application for his method is not yet through, and he has another even better idea about to be unveiled.)

Some more links:
- Captchas in wkiipedia 
a Technobabble article claiming that all captchas are doomed to be broken... 
- and a typically funny and fascinating discussion on Slashdot about the Technobabble artice here

P.S That often infuriating ReCapatcha technology illustrated at the top at least has a silver lining. You are 
helping to digitize books
 that scanning computers can't read.

Feeling the heat in Delhi

I received this email today from TED speaker Kamal Meattle (who has a fine short TED talk on using plants to improve air quality.... http://tr.im/k7vV )  Of course you can't pin a single heat spell on anything... weather is too variable for that. But his plea is eloquent nonetheless. 

From: "Kamal Meattle"
Date: April 30, 2009 7:15:35 AM EDT
To: "'Chris Anderson'" 
Subject: Global Warming

Dear Chris,

Yesterday was the hottest day in Delhi in 51 years – 43.5 degrees centigrade on April 29, 2009.

There is more of this to come ...

The Executive Secretary of UNFCC has said that the Himalayan Glaciers will dry up by 2035.

This will mean that the Holy Ganges River will also dry up as a year round river and will depend on the monsoon rains only

The question is in Hindi, "Jab Ganga sookh jaigi tub kia?" – In English it translates to “What happens after the Ganges River dries up?”

What does this mean to us as farmers in Punjab, Haryana, U.P, Jharkhand, Uttranchal, Bihar, West Bengal etc?

What does it mean to the residents of Delhi?

We know that the Ganga does not flow through Delhi but it certainly flows through our hearts and through the taps of Delhi!

If this river dries up, can you imagine what this will mean for many of us who have a preference for our ashes being immersed in the Ganga River?

The sad part of it is that we politically battle over caste and forget about the issues that threaten our very existence or developmental issues?

Are we informing the people that this is a disaster waiting to happen? 

Is it not right for the people to know of this threat?

2035 is only 26 years away and the Glaciers are not going to suddenly dry up on New Years Day 2035!

It will happen much before then and we need to wake up and inform the people and create an awareness and start doing something about it.

The solution is not entirely in our hands as this is going to happen due to Global Warming which in turn is a result of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

We have still not learnt to build walls in the sky and hence are dependent on what people in China, USA or Europe or elsewhere do.

We must do something ourselves and take this threat with the seriousness it deserves.

The first step is for us to recognize this threat and be aware of it.

Best wishes and regards,



Kamal Meattle
Chief Executive Officer
Paharpur Business Centre & Software Technology Incubator Park

Nehru Place Greens, New Delhi 110019, India



Resources to better understand the swine flu epidemic (updated 5/8)

The new H1N1 virus is spreading fast, but homo sapiens in 2009 has the ability to spread life-saving knowledge even faster. Here are some valuable online resources:

•  [Update 5/8] Headline summary from authoritative news sources http://swine-flu.alltop.com/

•  [Update 5/4] Regularly updated summary of cases worldwide http://flucount.org

• "Ground Zero" identified?  
The Guardian
on an outbreak in a Mexican village in February 

• Veratect credited with first reporting of the epidemic and are one of the more reliable reporters of breaking health news. They can be followed on twitter @veratect, though I don't necessarily recommend it. Lots of short updates create an unsettling,  possibly distorting drumbeat. A daily check-in better?!

• The relevant pages on the
official websites
   World Health Organization (WHO)
   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

• CDC's Dr Martin Cedron 
in the 
on the key mystery of apparently different levels of virulence inside and outside Mexico.

• Spectacular one page display of how media are reporting global health events (you can adjust for different locations, languages, and remember, just because it's a headline doesn't mean it's true) (via @vasantk)

Important context. Click 'Illness' in LH bar. The counter for Respiratory Infections is showing the number of new influenza-like cases that are happening all the time, swine flu or no swine flu. 

Excellent, but worrying, article by former influenza researcher.

• Three key personal safety tips on HuffPost.

• A fine public health blog Effect Measure

Google map
 of cases maintained by biomedical researcher 'Niman'   (alas, you now have to zoom out because the virus has spread.) There are some duplications, and the info not necessarily up to date. Looking for better map.

• Timeline of the outbreak.

• Useful call for skepticism in this warning about Twitter misinformation

• ...google.org flu trends page that plots local-level reports of flu outbreaks in US compared with prior years.  So far nothing out of the ordinary.  (This page is one small outcome from Larry Brilliant's 2006 TED Prize wish.)

If you know of an additional great resource, or a problem with one of these, please post a comment. 

Email just received from proposed TED speaker

"I personally believe that the greatest threat to our species is not global warming, warfare, poverty, or environmental degradation – the greatest threat is drug-resistant bacteria. Should flesh-eating Strep someday exchange the right genes with drug-resistant Staph, the resulting superbug could conceivably melt the human race like a wax museum on fire..."


Inspiration from the Ocean

Here are five great TED talks making the invisible visible.





 ..and last but most definitely not least...


 (You can keep in touch with Sylvia Earle's TED Prize wish here: http://www.tedprize.org/sylvia-earle )