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- Cycling Success Stories Mainly About Women
- Introducing the Durable Human Manifesto
- Meet the DC Cast of Listen To Your Mother
- Replant Native Trees that Turbocharge Nature
- A Prospective Author’s Perspective 2013
- How Free Content Can Boost Book Sales
- Tips for Effective Email Marketing
- Give Some Guidance with that Gadget
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It’s Chris Anderson’s idea. As curator of the TED thought leadership conferences, he gets a torrent of e-mail. Chris pines for the good old days when people didn’t “barge into someone’s house or office and expect, then and there, 20 minutes of thoughtful, focused attention.” more »
Thinking back on high school, no one wanted to be embarrassed in front of their friends. So why would we want to bring that on our children? more »
Just as they do face to face, kids love to socialize online. Four out of five online teens hang out on social networks. Some of them may like to tweet or dabble in MySpace, but practically all have a profile on Facebook. “No one had any idea how quickly and or how widely this would spread,” says Stephen Balkam, director of the Family Online Safety Institute which sponsored the new report by the Pew Research Center. more »
Because he likes to cook, 16 year old Daniel Martinez has been appointed “executive chef” at the Farm at Walker Jones. Whenever he volunteers, he whips up dishes in the farm stand with whatever is picked that day. “It’s really neat to see plants and herbs I’d never heard of before like swiss chard – in the middle of D.C.” Daniel walks to the farm from a nearby private high school where he is a sophomore.
The half-acre plot primarily serves students, families and neighbors of a D.C. Public School called the Walker Jones Education Campus. Last year, even though groundbreaking wasn’t until early summer, the farm managed to raise 3,000 pounds of food which went to residents, a retirement community and a kitchen which serves the homeless.
Young hearts and minds are tended just as carefully. As the website says, “It is an outdoor classroom where experiential learning integrated into the school curriculum happens side by side with the social and emotional education required to train the leaders of tomorrow.”
Just like other kids who visit, Daniel has learned a lot. Before he became a volunteer, he “wasn’t big into picking fresh ingredients.” But now he says he appreciates “when one second they’re in the ground and the next second they’re a delicious appetizer.”
Daniel was delighted when a woman from the neighborhood tried one of his signature recipes and gushed, “I don’t usually like zucchini, but I sure like this!”
Anyone is welcome to volunteer at the farm on Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday afternoons. You will receive a selection of the day’s produce, so don’t forget to bring a bag.
This post is brought to you by Blog Action Day 2011. The subject this year is FOOD.
According to a new Pew Internet and American Life Project report, local TV news is still the go-to source for weather, traffic and breaking news. But people are looking elsewhere for other information, often using their phones.
How the Internet has revolutionized the way messages are delivered was the focus of this year’s Activism + Media + Policy, or “AMP” Summit held last month in Washington, D.C.
Andy Eller is the Director of Business Development at place-sharing site, Gowalla. In a panel presentation, he told AMP attendees he gets all his news from Twitter because it’s unfiltered and current. Twitter’s own Adam Sharp then took the opportunity to mention that tweets about an earthquake hit New York before the actual tremors did.
In his AMP remarks, CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller says he likes writing news on Twitter “because it doesn’t have to go through a copy editor.” Twitter, he continued, is like “having my own personal wire service” – on which he has churned out 40,000 tweets in two years.
Yet, despite the growing popularity of micro-blogs, people today rely on many information platforms, some of which aren’t so new. For instance, the Pew report shows that young adults often get their news by word of mouth. Kelly Wallace is Chief Correspondent for iVillage, the largest content-driven community for women on the web. She says iVillagers prefer message boards so they can anonymously share personal information.
Veteran print journalist Howard Fineman gave the AMP sendoff message. A year ago, Fineman leaped from Newsweek to become Editorial Director of Huffington Post Media Group. Although his former and new office buildings are located so close he didn’t have to change Starbucks, Fineman says he did change ”his entire outlook on everything.”
Fineman calls HuffPost “a combination of news site and social networking site,” which he’s convinced is where news is going. These are his reasons why:
- We live in a news community that is omni-directional. Unlike the days of Walter Cronkite, when viewers hung on his every word, communications are no longer one-way. Now anyone can join – and sometimes direct – the news conversation.
- News is no longer a mass discussion. News sources can now speak discretely to individuals. At present, Huffington Post has 30 different vertical content sections. The Politics page often draws more traffic than the site’s front page.
- News today is constant and immediate, not periodic and episodic. There used to be two news cycles. Now there is only one – and it happens 24/7.
- The distinction between global and local has disappeared. The Arab Spring was experienced by people worldwide in present tense. As Fineman says, “We were all there in Tahrir Square.”
- Old-style, long narratives are gone. Shorter and live are what work today, preferably mixed with video and pictures.
- There’s no more pyramid of authority. The days of the hard-bitten, all-controlling executive editor have passed. With little or no editorial oversight, many writers now monitor and judge the content of their own messages.
- The media is more openly ideological. News curators unabashedly admit the biases they bring to the table. Transparency is the new objectivity.
So, it makes sense that the online society is seeking out a variety of news platforms. Many of us likely share Fineman’s final thought: “you shouldn’t assume any one source of authority is the only one to look at.”
If you ever hear or see anything about William Shatner’s Shatner Rules, do not attempt to avoid it. You will be powerless to resist the book’s black-hole-like magnetism and relentless cross-promotion.
Shatner Rules caught me with something called a “Klout Perk”. As someone who spends too much time on Twitter, I received a peppy little email asking if I’d like a free book about the “Shatnerverse.” I bit on the bait, it arrived in the mail, and I was hooked from the first page.
First of all, it’s funny. The Shatnerisms made me laugh out loud, like when he said “Few are worthy enough to call me an egomaniac!” and described his kidney stone as “an onyx of agony.”
Then there’s the Wow Factor. Did you know Bill Shatner is 80? If you did the math, you could figure that out. But you have to be a pretty huge fan to know he has recorded three albums in his lifetime. On his new release, Searching for Major Tom, Bill belts out Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” accompanied by renowned heavy metal guitarist Zakk Wylde.
Since Shatner’s been in show business for 75 years, the book is also about acting. If you thought Captain Kirk was his only real role, prepare to be amazed. He’s appeared in productions from major motion picture Judgment at Nuremberg to the 1960s TV series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Right now, he has not one, but two talk shows including Aftermath where he interviews such notables as Daniel Ellsburg, Bernard Goetz and Lee Boyd Malvo.
Oh, and by the way, Shatner Rules also offers Bill’s heartfelt, upbeat philosophy of life.
All this is wrapped up in a compact 50,000-word hardcover. I wondered why Penguin USA, a foremost publisher of cutting-edge digital products, would send me a little print book. Well, this no-tech tome is a true marvel of multi-platform marketing. Shatner effectively pushes his Facebook page, commercials and shows on YouTube, music on iTunes, and Twitter feed. He and co-writer, former The Daily Show with Jon Stewart comedy scribe Chris Regan, even have a sneaky trick to get you to www.WilliamShatner.com.
Shatner Rules reminded me why print books still work. In this case, the format controls the game through a clever layout which delivers laughs with maximum impact. Punch lines are often perfectly timed with page turns.
For the mere price of one copy plus postage, Dutton Publicity managed not only to get me to read and write about their book, but also to buy more. The sweet thing about paper books is that they are great keepsakes and gifts. As opposed to my somewhat dour gift choice for last Christmas, this year my loved ones will receive Shatner Rules.
All kidding aside, Bill’s an awesome example of how to wring the most out of life, even when you’re 80.
Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large. On sale everywhere October 4.
At least one Washington-area commuter is making her Try Transit week permanent. When a person cancels the contract on a parking spot in her own office building, you know she has to be serious.
My cousin loves her car – a 2009 Infiniti G37 coupe. Color: liquid platinum. But her enthusiasm for driving was significantly curbed in June when she was involved in an accident in heavy rush-hour traffic for the second time in two months. Not only did it give her jitters behind the wheel – her insurance payment doubled.
Knowing what I do about how taking transit saves money, burns calories and frees up time, I gingerly made The Ask. Since I was commuting downtown for the summer, I suggested we take the bus to the Metro from the stop right outside her development in central Tysons Corner. Before the accidents, she may have laughed it off, but instead she said yes.
Here’s how it went that first day in mid-August (the other voice you hear is mine):
Now that my cousin’s been riding a while, I e-mailed her a few questions.
Has switching to Metro saved you money?
The cost of using Metro per month is $196 (bus + train). Parking at the office is $270/month (which I pay for) plus $210/month in gas. So turns out my total monthly savings is $284. Additional pluses are less mileage on the car as well as wear and tear on the tires. Also there is less chance of getting in an accident (my personal favorite).
Cons: I don’t love being stuck at the mercy of the Metro bus and train schedules. Also, driving can take less time. The 11-mile commute by car ranges from 30 minutes on the best day to 90+ on bad days. Plus – I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do on public transportation.
Pros: It’s less stressful. I used to arrive at work all stressed out from the traffic delays, constant construction and really poor driving going on around me. I can work on my way in as I get service for the BlackBerry on the bus and train.
Buses are really clean with great air conditioning. Bus timetables are pretty accurate. I have two different bus routes 1 block from my home.
The bus dropoff at West Falls Church is covered so you don’t get wet. The bus area has a dedicated, separate entrance to trains. 95% of the time I get a seat both ways. Metro commute is 50 minutes door-to-door coming from my area behind Tysons II.
Using SmartCard, I have a pre-tax benefit through my firm’s WMATA SmartBenefits program.
Was it easier or harder than driving on the earthquake, hurricane and flood days?
In general, easier. While there were time delays, the traffic seemed way worse. On Earthquake day, it took almost twice as long due to lower speed limit on tracks to allow for checking to make sure no structural damage to tracks. On the Thursday Tropical Storm Lee blew through, I waited an hour for the bus – which I expected. But I equated traffic around Tysons to Christmas Eve: gridlock. I was very glad to be on the bus.
What are your words of wisdom to anyone considering a bus/Metro commute?
Hmm, I would say had you not suggested I give this a try and at the same time accompanied me for the first few days, I would not have even considered it. I absolutely love my car and, let’s face it, I am fairly lazy where walking is concerned from growing up in the suburbs where you drove everywhere from the first day you get your license. It’s a way of life/frame of mind. I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do on public transportation.
Having said that, my advice would be to try it for a week, take the time to do the math and calculate the savings – and have an open mind.
I begrudgingly (still) have to admit I am a public transportation convert. Check back with me in November when the cold and snow has settled in.
And so I will.
Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington
Could it be that it’s easier to forget your child in the car than realize your cellphone is missing? A tragic number is telling.
At last count, 513 American kids have died inside hot, closed cars since record-keeping began in 1998. About half were forgotten by a parent or caregiver.
Because the death toll continues to climb, authorities met in Washington, D.C. this week to propose immediate action. “It’s so urgent that we find effective sets of countermeasures that we all can take right now,” said David Strickland of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as quoted in the Washington Post.
And what do experts suggest as a top countermeasure? Put your cellphone in the back seat with your child.
The advocacy group Kids and Cars.org has a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God perspective. Says founder Janette Fennel: “People think these people must be terrible parents, they must be monsters, because if we think that, we can’t relate to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The truth is that any of us can fall prey to a single act of absent-mindedness which could have horrific results. To avoid that, parents and caregivers must be mindful and informed.
Some life-saving advice from KidsandCars:
- Your child gets hot faster than you do – up to five times faster.
- A closed car can reach a broiling 125 degrees in only minutes.
- Cracking the windows does not slow the heating.
Practice safe habits:
- Don’t leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute.
- Look before you lock. Open the back door and check inside before you walk away.
- Instruct your babysitter or childcare center to call you if your child doesn’t show up when he or she is expected.
And, yes – lest you forget: when you buckle up your child, put your go-to things in the back seat, too – which will surely include a cellphone.
On Capitol Hill today, phone lines and websites are buckling under the pressure of so many Americans trying to make their feelings known about the debt ceiling. They’re answering President Obama’s call in a speech last night: “If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.”
Mr. Obama wasn’t specific about how to do that, but most people apparently went the traditional route. Thankfully, though, there were other ways to make their voices heard.
According to a new survey – ironically released today – Congress has rushed to embrace social media. And none too soon.
The Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to improving communications with Congress, found that most members have a Facebook page and are also on Twitter. The 260 House and Senate staffers who took the survey are generally pleased to have the new tools. “By a ten to one margin, they are reaching people they’ve never been able to reach before,” says Brad Fitch, CMF president and chief executive.
But now that there are so many ways to communicate, which method has the most bang for the buck? According to Fitch, “Sending an individual e-mail is 20 points more influential than social media.” In other words, the time you take composing an e-mail has more cred than a 140-character tweet.
And how can your message have maximum impact? Fitch shared two simple rules in a fact-filled interview on Facebook DC Live.
Timing is everything. For heaven’s sake, make sure and get in your dibs before your Congress members make a decision. Check the status of your issue so you don’t waste your time or theirs.
Don’t be wishy washy. “Have a firm ask,” advises Fitch. Determine exactly what you want your Congress member to do, then state it simply and clearly. Start by writing your message in short form on the Subject line.
What if you do all the right things, but your carefully crafted call or note hits a technical roadblock? You may have no choice but to go social. Says Fitch: “The best ways to get through are Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.”
Bike share gives you another way to travel short distances, such as from a Metro station to a nearby restaurant. 110 of the solar-powered bike share stations have sprung up in the busier areas of Washington and Arlington.
Rolling away from the station outside the entrance to the Crystal City Metro, I immediately felt comfortable on my CaBi bike. The weight of the sturdy frame and the three gears kept my progress slow and under control as we negotiated stop-and-go car traffic.
Since I was used to seeing Crystal City from a car window, I thought it wasn’t much more than a drab concrete jungle. But gliding slowly along, I got a closeup view of how much had changed since I moved from the area thirty years ago. Now, beautiful potted plants dot street corners. Graceful shade trees sway in the breeze. Sidewalk cafes beckon.
And bike share stations are located every couple of blocks. That close proximity is what makes the system a viable form of transportation. Our tourguide tells us that lots of people now grab a bike instead of a taxi or bus. They predict that as Metrorail gets more crowded, bike share will become a desired alternative for more people and actually free up spaces on trains.
I liked my bike in D.C. better than the one I rode last summer in Milan. For one thing, a bungy cord secures your stuff in the cargo rack. We were bummed in Italy when our new DSLR camera slid out of the open metal basket and crashed on the sidewalk. Capital Bikeshare maintenance folks report their bikes are much more reliable then the finicky fleet in Paris.
I wore business clothes for the ride and soon realized one’s outfit should rarely be an impediment. Truth be told, if you’re wearing high heels and have to go any distance at all, it’s a lot more comfortable to ride a bike than it is to walk.
Capital Bikeshare is remarkably safe. More than 700,000 rides have been taken on the system since CaBi opened last fall, but there have been very few accidents. In fact, medical assistance has only been necessary in only about a dozen instances. CaBi adds an additional measure of safety by teaming up with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association to offer free classes in negotiating city traffic.
Bike share is a great deal. You’ll need to pay to get into the system. A year-long membership costs $75. It’s $30 for a month and $5 for a day. But having done that, any time you use a bike, the first half hour is free. If you time it right, you could take as many short hops as you want and never pay another dime.
As for tech support, clear instructions and a bike locator map are on the CaBi website. A free smart phone app, www.SpotCycle.net, is an easy way to check as you’re riding whether there is an open spot to return your bike at your destination.
Scores of new bike share stations are planned for new places, including Montgomery County and Alexandria. But there’s no need to wait for a full build-out. If, for instance, you want to go from Capitol Hill to a meeting on K Street, it may be faster and cheaper to check out a CaBi than to wait for a cab and risk getting caught in traffic.
Larry Knighten is dean of students at Joyce Kilmer Middle School, which is located within walking distance of traffic-choked Tysons Corner, Virginia. Recently, Larry noticed a problem. Every day, the single bike rack outside the school was filled to overflowing. Bikes were locked haphazardly to fences and trees.
It all started when the county transportation department built a little bridge over a nearby creek to create a direct connection to the many neighborhoods on the other side. What resulted is that many kids who had never been able to walk and bike to school before decided to give it a go.
But, rather than getting mad at the bicycle mishmash, Larry got creative with a few school system dollars. Not only did he buy more bike racks, he built a beautiful concrete pad to go underneath so the kids and the ground wouldn’t get muddy.
The school is so excited, they held a ribbon-cutting – and even a U.S. congressman dropped in to celebrate.
A couple of student onlookers commented on how they roll.
“I ride to school because it’s faster than walking and, you know, it’s just fun because you get a little bit of exercise in the morning,” said one young man.
Another sees the practical advantages: “The bus is a lot earlier than I’d like to leave and if I leave on my bike I can leave later and it’s not that far. It’s really nice and I just think it’s a good experience to ride your bike to school.”
Sleep. Exercise. Autonomy. Just what pre-teens (and the rest of us) need to be healthy and happy.
Below, Larry talks about the benefits of biking to school, and Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly explains how strategic, small government investments like the Kilmer bridge can lead to less car traffic and a more livable community. .
In pre-digital times, parents were the ones who craved time off to recharge their batteries. But in today’s switched-on world, entire families are in need of unplugged rest and relaxation. A spot within easy driving distance from Washington helps everyone get back on a healthier beat.
“Non-ado” is a sweet term I learned from Martin Ogle, longtime Chief Naturalist at Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, Virginia. He was invited recently to speak to the outdoor education advocacy group, NoVA Outside. Martin says nature proceeds at its own unrushed, regular rhythm. Non-ado, and the Taoist concept of Wu-wei, refer to one’s ability to exist in harmony with that age-old cadence.
Martin joins spiritualist Thomas Merton and author Walter Kerr, who contend that our hyper-busy, high-tech society is out of sync with the rhythm of nature, causing us maladies ranging from anxiety to depression. In other words, we are suffering because we no longer go with Nature’s flow. Spending time outside helps rectify new-age angst. Or, in Martin’s words, “there are a lot of questions that being outdoors helps answer.”
Recently, our family went in search of spring break tranquility. It might have been the rustle of spanish moss on the massive live oaks – or the hammocks beckoning beneath - but it was easy to slip into a state of non-ado at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort.
Comfy porch rockers invite you to chill out at this warm South Carolina hideaway only six hours from the Nation’s Capital.
But Walt Disney would never be content with only DIY amusement. Helpful employees called “cast members” assist with all kinds of activities which have an emphasis on nature.
Working with paintbrush and paper at large wooden tables, kids have plenty of elbow room for gyotaku, the ancient Japanese art of fish rubbing. Teens head out with the cast to play mini-golf or games on the beach. When they want to be together, families can don rubber boots for outings such as exploring the marsh at low tide with a naturalist.
The resort’s flat, white sand beach is located about a mile across the island, but there’s no reason to get in the car. Take the free shuttle or ride the flat, protected bike trails instead. Try to BYOB (bring your own bikes) because rentals are pricey.
Each unit has at least a cook top and fridge, if not a full kitchen. Remember to pick up provisions on the way because the gift shop carries only the basics. If you want to splurge for dinner, many restaurants are just a short stroll past the gleaming yachts docked in Shelter Cove.
While it’s true that price can put a Disney resort out of reach, there’s no harm in borrowing Walt’s ideas. Creating Wu-wei in your own back yard or nearby park doesn’t take much - just some creativity and the will to put the gadgets aside and let Nature set the tempo.
In President Obama’s address last night about US military action in Libya, he said that the US and its allies should “mobilize for collective action.” Esteemed Big Thinker Lester Brown knows exactly what they should do.
Step One would be to watch the documentary ”Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization” streaming now on PBS. The movie is based on Brown’s new book, World on the Edge. They will soon learn that so many of the world’s vital natural support systems have been damaged or destroyed that the future of civilization is now in jeopardy. The founder of the Earth Policy Institute says dwindling water supplies, soil erosion, deforestation and over-reliance on disappearing energy sources have become the world’s most pressing security concerns. Among the measures in Brown’s ambitious vision: reducing carbon emissions by 80% within the next 8 years, stabilizing world population at 8 billion, converting to renewable sources of energy, and retooling US security and defense.
I spoke with Lester after Plan B premiered at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. He says the changes sweeping north Africa and the Middle East are comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall and present a critical opportunity to offer a new kind of assistance to states in need:
Terrifying nuclear crises, ominous cyber-wars, oil and food prices in a race to the top – if there is a Plan A for saving us from simultaneous global catastrophies, it’s not working. But there is another option.
Enter Lester Brown, esteemed Big Thinker and founder of the Earth Policy Institute. In his new book, World on the Edge, Brown unveils “Plan B” – a sweeping vision to retool the world economy and re-balance earth’s ecosystems so its people can survive. For Plan B to come to the rescue in time, he proposes an immediate about-face in U.S. security policy. Struggles in the Middle East are what could catapult America into action.
Brown calls his plan ”the new defense budget, the one that addresses the most serious threats to both national and global security.” It costs $187 billion, or about one-fourth of the current U.S. Defense budget.
These are the basic building blocks of Plan B:
Keep water flowing and farmland fertile. Right now, many countries are draining the last precious drops from their water supplies. Water tables are dangerously low for half the world’s population. To prevent widespread deaths and mass migrations due to thirst and starvation, Brown’s plan would assist dry countries by helping them conserve water and grow food through efficient irrigation systems and water-efficient crops.
Because so many forests have been cut down and grasslands are being heavily overgrazed, precious topsoil is gone or disappearing in many areas. To prevent future wars over dwindling food supplies, Plan B ends deforestation worldwide and calls for restoring grasslands and the planting of billions of trees. It would also create marine reserves in oceans around the world to provide sustainable and vast supplies of edible fish. In the meantime, an international food reserve would help stabilize prices so everyone has at least something to eat.
Within 8 years, reduce carbon emissions by 80%. This would be achieved by speeding the shift from worldwide dependence on fossil fuels to the use of the renewable, safe, and limitless energy sources of wind, waves, solar and geothermal. The plan would lower taxes on incomes but raise them on carbon-producing fuels like gasoline. This would push the world toward transportation and manufacturing practices which use less oil and coal. That way, world output of carbon dioxide will drop, slowing the rise of sea and air temperature. Less melting of arctic ice means fewer people and livelihoods would be inundated by rising water.
Stabilize the world population at 8 billion people. Slowing runaway population growth will make it easier to conserve earth’s remaining resources and stretch food supplies. Recent history shows that educated women have fewer children. So, in countries where birth rates are highest, Brown’s plan calls for the education of all young people, especially girls. Providing access to decent healthcare and reproductive services would also shrink family size.
Re-tool U.S. defense and security. When states are in turmoil, they can’t perform basic functions like collecting taxes, paying their bills or providing jobs. Such instability also threatens global security. As Brown points out, “Efforts to control international terrorism also depend on cooperation among functioning nation states. As more and more states fail, this cooperation becomes less and less effective.”
Brown envisions a new cabinet-level U.S. agency called the “Department of Global Security” which would help shaky countries get back on their feet by providing sustainable security, economic and environmental solutions. In Yemen, for instance, the U.S. and other nation partners could help set up methods for sustainable farming, generating renewable energy and conserving water.
At this time, a large part of the U.S. defense budget is spent on costly conventional weapons. Brown questions the continuing success of this strategy, asking: “What if the next war is fought in cyberspace or with terrorist insurgents? Vast investments in conventional weapons systems will be of limited use.” Indeed, those days are already upon us. As Michael Joseph Gross writes in April’s Vanity Fair, unprecedented, ultra-sophisticated cyber-attacks waged in 2009 on nuclear facilities in Iran were “the Hiroshima of cyber-war.” That’s why Brown says now’s the time to re-think defense priorities.
To find out more about Plan B, you can read World on the Edge or watch the film special streaming on PBS. If you think the idea has merit, share this post with your Congress members and Senators. It might save billions in the Defense budget, and maybe the planet, too.
It was reassuring to be at the second-ever Digital Book World Conference, if only to see so many others hurtling forward in the same general direction. We were all a little breathless in the brief time-out from our unexpected digital journeys.
Mine began four years ago, when I had an idea for a book. Ironically, it’s a strategy parents can use to introduce their kids thoughtfully to the online world. I started down the publishing road like everyone else back then: researching the topic, writing a manuscript, sending out proposals. I found out pretty quickly that no one wanted to print tech-related non-fiction – especially by an unknown author.
Then the ground began to shift.
I was at an American Independent Writers conference, cheerless from some face-to-face rejections, when I wandered into a session called “The Online Platform.” We were told that if a writer is going to be successful, she had better have a blog, website and Twitter account. Agents won’t even talk to you, the speaker insisted, unless you come with a posse. Sensing I had no choice (and no posse), I set out to create my digital lasso.
While I was still sorting out the hashtags from the plug-ins, my husband gave me a Kindle and I saw how Amazon was squeezing book-selling like a python. Shortly after that, I stumbled upon the Digital Book World Roundtable.
Each week I would lurk, listening in on Guy Gonzales and his merry band of e-pub pioneers. After a few months, they convinced me the writing on the wall was electronic, so I studded my manuscript with links. Then, last summer – driving between West Palm Beach and Jacksonville – I wrote a script in my head for a companion video. A few months later, as luck would have it, I was able to attend the DBW conference in exchange for doing some interviews and shooting cover footage.
The formal sessions were captivating, as was the time in between. From executives to entrepreneurs – all were happy to share their thoughts. DBW Innovation award-winner, Hillel Cooperman, showed me how his kids and his parents can read books together on the iPad, even when they’re on opposite coasts. And, author and Wired scribe Frank Rose divulged that he too is “groping” toward understanding this strange, new medium (though his book is published).
I returned home grateful for sipping the nectar of a blossoming industry – and encouraged as I grope my way.
I’ve been skeptical about reports that body contact with cell phones can cause problems, but a strange sensation and a new book have changed my attitude.
I first noticed the whooshing sound in my right ear after I spent a few days in October visiting my parents. I’d talked a half hour or so each night with my husband, the phone nestled between my ear and a pillow. I took a decongestant to see if it was a sinus problem, but the strange sound has continued since I’ve been home: when it’s quiet, I can hear the blood pulsing on the right side of my head.
Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a review in the Washington Post. A new book claims there is definitive proof that radiation from cell phones, cordless phones and even blue tooth devices can be harmful over time. In Disconnect, author and epidemiologist Devra Davis reviews four decades of research, explaining complicated technical concepts in clear and simple language. She concludes there are enough disturbing findings and unanswered questions that we should actually pay attention to the warnings manufacturers stuff into the box with their wireless products – not to press them directly onto the body.
Davis cites compelling evidence that microwaves created when phones send and receive signals can painlessly interfere with the brain’s natural defense mechanisms. Other studies indicate it’s not a good idea to hold a phone in the front pants pocket – as most males do. Children apparently are at special risk. In some European countries, cell phone use is banned for children younger than 16.
My son’s time studying at Rochester Institute of Technology has taught me that a group of motivated designers can solve almost any problem. So I’m fully confident cell phones in the future will be much safer. But for now, people may not be getting enough protection.
Thus, I have depleted the stock in two Radio Shacks of the PointMobl Stereo Earbud Headset with Mic. The relatively low-tech device lets you talk on the phone where it’s supposed to be – away from your head. I like the design because the wires don’t tangle, it has a universal phone plug and an adapter for an iPod – plus the writing on the packaging is very clever. I passed along Davis’s advice to my boy relatives not to carry a phone in the front pocket – but if they do, to face the keyboard inward because the antenna is embedded in the back.
This explains why holiday gifts this year to my loved ones are merely practical. But I must say that whooshing noise has gotten quieter since I’ve been texting more and using a wire or speakerphone to talk.
Technology can come to the rescue at D.C. events such as the October 30 Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Sanity rally – where huge crowds fueled by social media come together in a real place.
That’s according to Curt Westerphal of Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., also known as AirPhotosLIVE.com. The Falls Church, Virginia firm was hired by CBS News to count heads at both the Comedy Central and Glenn Beck rallies. Curt got in touch after reading my Sanity rally followup in the Washington Post.
From a balloon tethered high above the Air and Space Museum, AirPhotosLIVE took pictures with an array of high-resolution cameras, combining the images with photos taken from atop the Washington Monument and a GeoEye satellite. In the same way a person looks down on a busy ant hill, these sophisticated eyes in the sky watch how people swarm and surge. Stunning photography and 3-D views of the Sanity rally can be seen on the Photosynth website.
“We are looking at patterns of movement and demand,” Curt wrote. “The crowd movement patterns we see from the air are valuable since they help transportation, security, first-responders and even Porta-Potty planners locate and track the flow of the crowd.” For instance, if the National Park Service used AirPhotosLIVE imaging, officials could see in nearly real time which subway stations were being overrun and let Metro know where to direct riders to less-crowded stations.
Soon, information could go directly to the crowd via their smart phones. We’re one inch away from having everyone there see the info,” Curt told me. “We already have a wireless downlink to our trailer. The issue is getting it out to social media. We could post it to a website right now. The limitations are really less technical and more political.”
That would be great if the cell phones actually worked, which they didn’t inside the Sanity rally. But, with enough planning, that problem can be solved, too. That is, if COWs roam the Mall. Cells On Wheels are mobile cell phone towers which temporarily stretch available bandwidth allowing phones to keep working. COWs were used successfully at the Obama inauguration.
Curt’s balloon also serves as a relay for walkie-talkie and 911 communications between emergency responders, even if they are on different frequencies. “The aerostat at 800 feet could allow a person at a distant station, say Greenbelt Metro, to talk to someone at the Reston Metro.”
But what happens if weather or something else grounds the amazing inflatable? “I joke about ‘one if by land, two if by sea’,” Westergard said in an email. “But two simple flag colors can tell a lot. Think hurricane warning flags or smoke signals. A flag at 500 feet can be seen from Tysons with binoculars. This city unfortunately may need that level of mass communication one day.”
Chalk it up to Reddit, Facebook and Fark for packing them in at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally on October 30. That so many people heeded the digital drumbeat so quickly is a loud wakeup call for D.C. event planners, as I pointed out in The Washington Post.
It paid that day to be a local. Heading out two hours before the rally, my cousin and I planned to take the subway, but when we saw the line, kept driving - to a parking space at her office eight blocks from the Mall. Our luck held when, walking toward the entrance, we spied people stepping through a break in the fence and slipped in behind them.
We were one jumbotron back from the stage. The crowd was blissful, but standing up and packed in like sardines. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, but looking around, I couldn’t help but worry: what if something spooked the crowd? The city was not prepared.
When Comedy Central filed for a permit September 8, the network estimated 25,000 people would attend. “It had to do with actual space they [the National Park Service] were prepared to allot to the event,” network spokesman Tony Fox told The Durable Human. “We had no idea how many people were going to show up.”
After seven weeks of negotiations - which included the network’s decision not to pay for extra Metro service - 60,000 was the number approved in the final permit just three days before the event.
But even before the network’s eleventh-hour decision to commit, the electronic outreach started. “Reddit[.com] did a donation push to encourage us to do the rally,” Stephen Colbert acknowledged at the post-event press conference. (Fark.com was ticked off he didn’t give social media enough credit for making the rally happen).
Two weeks into the permit process, 100,000 people had RSVPd on Facebook. Then, on October 20, Andres Glusman of Meetup.com told the Christian Science Monitor, “This is growing faster than any online Meetup we’ve seen.” According to Yahoo News, self-organized satellite gatherings were being planned in 801 cities in 67 nations.
All the while, the coolest guys on TV invited viewers across the flat world to a free party in America’s capital.
Comedy Central kept an eye on the online numbers and made some adjustments. On October 25, the Wall Street Journal said the network ordered extra port-a-potties “suggesting organizers expect a crowd of 150,000 people.”
Metro put some extra trains and personnel on standby, but D.C. authorities were reluctant to go much further. “We did see that there was a large number of people RSVPing on Facebook,” said Park Service spokesman Bill Line. “But we have also found that for prior events, that’s not always an accurate gauge either. People will say they are coming and then don’t.”
In the end, precise aerial images paid for by CBS News showed that 215,000 people attended the rally. That’s not counting the thousands who tried but failed to ride the overloaded public transportation system to get downtown. “It’s kind of fascinating to us,” said the Comedy Central spokesman, “Facebook on the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert web sites came out to be 300,000.”
Looking back, it’s clear that DC event planners must re-think the way they do business. Besides reacting more quickly to Internet input, they need to better leverage the permit approval process to compel event sponsors to help pay for support services of all kinds – from extra Metro trains to bike valets.
For their part, private sponsors should get a better handle on attendance, perhaps by asking rally-goers to register in advance and charging a nominal entry fee to cover externalities.
Another problem to reckon with is that during big events on The Mall – like the rally and President Obama’s inaugural festivities - cell phone service is overwhelmed so no one can make or receive calls and texts.
To be able to do its job properly, the National Park Service must be fully informed. Congress banned the agency from making crowd estimates following a political dustup after the Million Man March in 1995. But in the new millennium, computer-analyzed imaging eliminates the shades of grey which might have prompted politically-motivated lawsuits.
The Washington Post Ombudsman suggested that a media consortium should share the cost of using such technology to make estimates. But since federal authorities already rely on the same imaging techniques for other purposes, Congress should end the ban and allow the Park Service to again be the crowd-estimating agency of record. (See Comment about capabilities of aerial imaging from AirphotosLIVE.com below)
With enough time and publicity, an event called by a charismatic worldwide figure could end up larger than any one country’s presidential swearing-in.
But Washington certainly isn’t the only place which must cope with increasingly massive crowds. Last summer, Shanghai was hobbled (shanghaied?) by sheer numbers at its World Expo. Waits at exhibits spanned up to nine hours.
Because of the burgeoning world population, designers and engineers from Rochester, Massachusetts and any other Institute of Technology must work to find better ways to fit lots of people into defined spaces. Maybe by going to a modular design, an exhibit could have multiple entrances and a five-hour wait could be cut to one.
Like it or not, the headaches of managing huge communities which come together in real-life spaces are here to stay.
As of last week, all the windows in the Empire State Building have been replaced…using the existing glass…repurposed right on site. Please excuse the ellipses, but this is really exciting.
As Kevin Surace of Serious Materials tells it — Tony Malkin, owner of the New York City landmark, wanted to save money on his energy bills, but didn’t want to waste his existing glass and Kevin said, “I can do that.”
So there, in a temporary shop on the fifth floor, Kevin’s crew remade each of the building’s 6,500 windows, crafting them into a new product which is 400% more efficient than what was there before.
The windows are part of an energy-efficiency retrofit that will achieve the astounding feat of making the Empire State greener than 90% of other office buildings. Tony expects it will save him $4.4 million a year.
Kevin Surace is a game-changer. He’s one of those rare individuals who give humans a good name because they’re so darn smart – not just in book learning (his degree is in Electrical Engineering Technology), but about how to influence other people to do what’s best for humanity at large.
As Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year, he was featured speaker at the 2010 Rochester Institute of Technology Entrepreneurs Conference, giving a rapt crowd his ten secrets for building a great company:
1. Identify a problem. Buildings and making the the stuff they’re built from generate 52% of the world output of carbon dioxide.
2. Provide great solutions. Since dual-pane glass is basically ineffective at reducing heat and cold transfer, Kevin’s company has come up with something better.
3. Recognition by peers is important. Kevin showed two videos of President Obama extolling the fact that Serious re-opened a shuttered factory and put hundreds of people back to work making energy efficient products.
4. Hire the right people for the job. Most of his come from Silicon Valley not from the building industry.
5. Have a vision for the next 5 to 10 years (at least) into the future.
6. Amazing client references help a lot. 3.5 million people visit the Empire State Building every year. My guess is Kevin will find some way to tell them about the windows.
7. Disruptive innovation. Stand up and knock over the table of existing practice. Kevin believes nothing happens if no one takes risks.
8. Disruptive marketing. Be there the moment the customer needs you. Monthly newsletters don’t cut it any more. Own the online conversation about your product category.
9. People notice when you’re nice. Smiling faces of people you put back to work: Priceless.
10. Don’t be afraid to change everything we know.
Building Industry Business Advice economy Empire State Building Energy Efficiency Entrepreneurship environment finance Glass local economics New York City personal sustainability Rochester Institute of Technology Serious Materails sustainability technology Windows: environment technology
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