Saturday, January 30, 2010


I was listening to a debate on whether America is responsible for Mexico's drug wars and at the end of the debate, each speaker was called to summarize his or her position. Having grown with debating a prominent activity at school, I was surprised to see people like CNN show hosts and Congressmen fail to summarize. There was one anecdote in support of the main argument, one gentleman went so far as to even concede some of his points to another and the others just used their summarizing time to extend their arguments, not to wrap up.

This was a couple of days ago.

Today, interestingly, I read about someone else lamenting good conclusions - in the State of the Union, and other presidential speeches. James Fallows objects to Obama (and other presidents) using "God bless you all; God bless the United States of America" to end their speeches. It started with Ronald Reagan and all presidents since have used to say "this speech is over". Before Reagan, they would end their speeches with a more natural conclusion.

Read Fallows' take about this on his blog. He also has the recent State of the Union address with his annotations, which are quite interesting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

on prescience

Someone pointed me to a TED talk on the changes brought about by the internet and social media. In his bio, the speaker is highlighted as a "prescient voice on the Internet's effects". I wouldn't call the talk prescient; it was peppered with anecdotes from the internet revolution already well underway, and some extrapolation from those.

The trouble with trying to be "prescient" is that it lasts only until the event you predicted does not happen, the probability of which is extremely, extremely high. If you are only studying and/or talking about technological forces today, you are already behind the curve.

I was recently at a PARC Forum called Technology-Mediated Social Participation where academics were lamenting the fact that theory is trying to catch up with practice.

One interesting point from Shirky's talk is how the "former audience" now becomes "producers" and "participants". Interesting because it is not only true of media as he says, but, in my opinon, for business and social processes as well. Twitter is a great example of this. Users were using the @username style to refer to one another and the "retweet" format long before Twitter formalized and inducted these into their technology.

The only "prescient" voice is a collective one of the "participatory audience" - some of them are already doing what the rest will be doing in the near future.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

giving to Haiti

I just heard a great program on NPR's Talk Of The Nation about giving to Haiti, with the founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Both traditional and social media are abuzz with various ways to contribute, and reflect heightened emotions of people wanting to help.

Here are some takeaways from the discussion.

Money is the only useful thing right now. It helps buy all the emergency items required to get by while the clean up happens. Any kind of goods will cost a lot in shipping, are not useful right now, might clog up supply/chain for the emergency requirements. Besides, you don't want to send goods even later, but have things sourced locally to support the local economy.

A lot of callers expressed interest in volunteering, but if you are not trained in handling such emergencies, it is better to stay away. They only need experts at the moment.

Most of the help that Haiti needs is not in the next few days, but in the next few months, or even years. Emergency response teams are helping the Haitians clean up. But once that is done, the task of re-building is more challenging and a longer one. The rest of the world must step in then, instead of forgetting it once public shock and recency are no longer factors.

Sending money through cell phones and such is easy and lots of people are doing it. I myself did it yesterday, and asked my Facebook friends to, as well. But know that what you are doing is really pledging money. It is not clear whether your phone company will pass along the money to the charity until you have paid your bill. And then it will take a while for the charity to send this collected money to the intended destination. It is better to send money directly to charity organizations working in Haiti.

Most charity organizations keep a percentage of the money you donate to cover their own costs. Find out the details about the organization you are donating through. It could be as low as 55% or as high as 97%. Also, make sure the organization is using your money for what you intended, and not for other purposes (even if other charitable purposes).

On the show they mentioned as a good resource for charities helping Haiti.

If you know how to send money directly to Haiti, or can endorse a particular charity for Haiti, please leave a comment.

You can also donate to Mercy Corps from your account:

Update: Find that NPR show here: Reliable Ways To Donate Money To Haiti Effort.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

nuclear energy

Nuclear energy used to be the next endless energy source.

Tens of years later, that dream failed to materialize and the world has moved on to trying to tap into a host of different kinds of sources - solar, wind, tidal, bio-matter, etc. - and make it economically viable on a large scale.

Nuclear energy is still our next endless energy source.

The reasons for failure in the past decades have political roots. The "developed" nations were involved in the Cold War that centered around stockpiles of nuclear weapons. As such, using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was relegated to being a front for nuclear arms and there was a huge political impetus to tie together weapons and nuclear energy generation. Power generators were made to use Uranium so they could create Plutonium as a by-product which is needed for nuclear bombs. The problem with using Uranium is that it is not well-suited for energy generation: it needs to be enriched (create fissile U-235 from naturally occuring U-238) in an expensive process, the nuclear reactors are dangerous and need many precision controls, and toxic waste is left over. And before you knew it, nuclear energy became the untouchable: dangerous and with evil intentions.

With some natural progression of history, this is where we find ourselves: the "nuclear" nations have enough nuclear weapons stockpiled, almost everyone has realized that nuclear deterrent is not the way forward, there is an impending energy crisis and a global warming crisis and we desperately need a solution to both.

Thorium tells a different story. This nuclear energy fuel that was discovered decades ago, but shelved because it did not generate Plutonium for weapons. It has already been proven to be a much safer and easier way to generate nuclear power, without any toxic waste and expensive enrichment processes. Scientists are now trying to create efficient and long-lasting reactors that use Thorium for large scale energy generation.

If this succeeds, it will be an interesting turn of events.

There will be some economic upheaval as the economy moves from being fossil fuel-based to being nuclear energy-based: transportation, as vehicle technology, range, capacities change, even energy storage and transportation. The politics are going to be interesting too, as different countries will be able to produce nuclear fuel.

Timelines for large scale nuclear power generation seem to be 20-40 years in the future, which is far too long. Oil is expected to peak in 10 years' time. I can't imagine ocean tides, for example, solving our civilization's energy needs in the coming decades. Governments need to give more impetus to safe and clean nuclear energy.

Further reading: