Cellphones in Timbuktu

well-in-an-oasisIt’s easy to think of people from the underdeveloped world as quite different from ourselves. After all, there’s little to convince us otherwise. National Geographic Specials, video clips on the Nightly News, photos in every major newspaper – all depicting a culture and lifestyle that’s hard for us to imagine let alone relate to. Yes – they seem very different; or perhaps not. Consider this story related to me by a friend.

Ray was a pioneer in software. He sold his company some time ago for a considerable amount of money. After this – during his quasi-retirement he got involved in coordinating medical relief missions to some of the most impoverished places on the planet, places such as Timbuktu in Africa.

The missions were simple – come to a place like Timbuktu and set up medical clinics, provide basic medicines and health care training and generally try and improve the health prospects of native peoples wherever he went.

Upon arriving in Timbuktu, Ray observed that their system of commerce was incredibly simple. Basically they had two items that were in commerce – goats and charcoal.

According to Ray they had no established currency – they traded goats for charcoal, charcoal for goats or labor in exchange for either charcoal or goats. That was basically it.

Ray told me that after setting up the clinic and training people they also installed solar generators for the purpose of providing power for satellite phones that they left in several villages in the region.

They had anticipated that the natives, when faced with an emergency or if they needed additional medicines or supplies would use the satellite phones to communicate these needs however this isn’t what ended up happening…the-road-to-timbuktu

Two years after his initial visit to Timbuktu, Ray went back to check on the clinics that they had set up and to make certain that the people there had the medicines and other supplies that they required.

Upon arriving at the same village he had visited before Ray was surprised to note that in the short period of only two years since his previous visit things had changed dramatically – things that had not changed for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years.

Principally, the change was to the commerce in Timbuktu. No longer where goats and charcoal the principal unit of currency. They had been replaced by a single unified currency – satellite phone minutes!

Instead of using the satellite phones to call Ray’s organization, the natives of Timbuktu had figured out how to use the phones to call out to neighboring villages. This enabled more active commerce between the villages – the natives could now engage in trade miles from home – coordinating trade between villages, calling for labor when needed or exchanging excess charcoal for goats on a broader scale for example.mudshacks-in-timbuktu

Of course their use of these phones wasn’t limited strictly to commerce – just like you and I, they also used these phones to find out what was happening in other places – who was getting married, who was sick or injured or simply to communicate with people from other places that were too far away to conveniently visit.

In other words, a civilization that had previously existed in a way that we would consider highly primitive had leapfrogged thousands of years of technological and cultural development and within the briefest of moments had adapted their lives to a technology that is among the most advanced of any broadly distributed in the modern world.

It’s a powerful reminder that in spite of our belief that primitive cultures are vastly different from us the truth is that basic human needs, when enabled by technology, are very much the same no matter where in the world or how advanced the civilization.

Perhaps we are not so different after all? Timbuktu

Posted in Humanity, mobile, Pearltrees, Third World | 3 Comments

Pearltrees: A Great New Tool for Bloggers and Journalists

PearltreesRecently, I’ve been working with a new tool that I think anyone that uses the web regularly is really going to appreciate: Pearltrees.

The company – which is based in France – has been developing this tool for a few years but in the last few days they have released their latest version and in my opinion it is now ready for prime time.

In a nutshell, Pearltrees allows you to very quickly and easily discover, organize and share the things you find on the web. This tool, which is truly a social web curation and collaboration tool, will enable you to quickly see a whole constellation of content specifically related to a post. More importantly, as additional links (or Pearls) are added to the original Pearltree, the tree in the post is updated in realtime making each Pearltree on a given topic a living reference to that topic. Furthermore, if you sign up for Pearltrees yourself, you can “pick” any specific Pearl or Pearltree you like from anyone else and then add it to your own personal Pearltrees content. Then, when the original creator of any Pearltree you picked adds content to that Pearltree, your own Pearltree is automatically updated with this new content. It’s a great way to drill down on a topic, to find people that share your interests and it’s also one of the fastest and easiest ways you’ll ever find to quickly and conveniently organize and share all the interesting stuff you discover while browsing the web.

For many, the most difficult thing about Pearltrees is understanding what it is and how it works without actually seeing it in action. Luckily, the new release has a feature that not only solves this problem it also makes this tool a new, and possibly indispensable new addition to any blogger’s arsenal.

Rather than try to explain in any more detail than I already have above, I thought that actually showing you a Pearltree that I’ve created would be one of the best ways for you to get familiar with what Pearltrees is and more importantly how it can help you organize content you have found, discover new content related to your interests, and finally share that content in a variety of ways.

Here’s what a Pearltree looks like:

As you can see, this is a Pearltree on Biofuel. When you look at it initially you are seeing a central structure with “Pearls” radiating off from it. Each of these individual Pearls is a URL (link) that the creator of the original tree has already placed within this tree – hopefully because it bears relation to the rest of the content in the tree.

By clicking any of these Pearls you’ll see an overlay appear on the site at which you are viewing the content. This overlay has the same controls as the actual Pearltrees site itself. These controls allow you to browse through the links one-by-one, to comment on the links or to “pick” a single Pearl or even the entire tree. This latter functionality requires that you create your own Pearltrees account (which is free).

When you pick someone else’s Pearltree you can choose where in your own Pearltrees account you’d like to place it. Once you do this a couple of cool things happens. First, the creator of the original Pearltree is notified that someone has picked one of his or her Pearls and secondly, as the original creator modifies that particular Pearltree (and most interestingly adds new Pearls to it), those updates appear simultaneously on the Pearltree you’ve added to your own account. In many respects “Picking a Pearltree” is like subscribing to an RSS feed only it’s visual – and providing that the creator is curating the content in a logical fashion – it is likely to be highly relevant to the primary topic of the tree.

There are a bunch of other really cool features associated with this new release. These include immediate notifications (both within Pearltrees itself and via email and eventually other modalities) as to when someone else picked one of your Pearltrees or commented on something in your account.

Beyond this, the new release features much improved navigation a short but very informative video on how you can get started using Pearltrees yourself and a much improved search algorithm. This last is really cool. When you enter a search term in the search box you’ll immediately see that lots of other Pearls congregate on your screen. The closer a Pearl is to the center of the screen the more closely related it is to your search.

The other way you can search is even more interesting. When you are browsing within your own account and you select an individual Pearltree you’ll see a small black “Pearl” right next to the Pearl you’ve selected. Clicking this will cause Pearltrees to perform a search that relates specifically to the content that you’ve already “Pearled”. This is the “discovery” part of the tool that I think people will find really interesting and useful. That’s because the search results this type of activity yields will give you a look at other people’s Pearltrees that are likely closely related to exactly what you find interesting.

One way to think of Pearltrees is like a very sophisticated, visually driven version of Delicio.us but with a much more socially oriented and collaborative way of discovering content and sharing new stuff you’ve found.

For content creators, embedding a Pearltree in your blog post or article will allow you to provide much more information, better context and a very interesting user experience to your readers while at the same time keeping them on your site.

As an example of how this could be used, think about websites that track celebrities. The owner of the site could create a Pearltree for each celeb they cover on that celebrity’s profile page. Then as things related to that celebrity are posted on the web the site-owner could add those links to that celebrity’s Pearltree. Not only will this provide a lot more information about the person, but people interested in news about that celebrity will be able to get that news all in one place. By maintaining the tree and keeping it current you will give people a reason to come back to your site over and over as new information is added.

There’s even more to Pearltrees than I’ve covered here but the best way to really understand what it does and how you can use it for browsing, blogging, research and more is simply to create your own account and get started using it.

As someone with a focus on social media I think this is a development that pushes social media in a new and exciting direction, one that has tremendous value to just about anyone that spends time browsing the web but especially for people that deal with lots of information and most particularly for people that want to share that information in a new, collaborative and highly effective way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Is NASA hiding what it found on the Moon?

Yes it's Real!  An Apollo Mission Captured this Odd Stucture Suspended Above the Lunar Surface!

Yes it's Real! An Apollo Mission Captured this Odd Stucture Suspended Above the Lunar Surface!

For several years, I have been studying images that were captured by Clementine – a military satellite that was launched on January 25, 1994 and orbited the moon taking pictures and conducting other experiments until June 1994 when power levels dropped to the point where the satellite was no longer viable.

During it’s mission Clementine took around 1.8 million lunar images – many of which have been intensely scrutinized by folks like me that have a keen interest in what might be seen with the new high resolution cameras that were on board the orbiter.

While many of the images yield rather pedestrian views of the moon we all think we know there were also a large number of images that appeared to show geography of an anomalous nature – in fact, certain images appeared to feature structures that don’t appear in the least bit natural. Additionally some researchers discovered images that appear to have been digitally altered in an effort to obfuscate whatever was in the original image.

While none of the images are conclusive in their own right, the large number of curious features as well as the rather obvious tampering with images that seem to have very strange objects partially covered up by the edits point to something rather unsavory happening with the actual image files that have been captured by Clementine and other orbiters.

It should be noted that Clementine was a joint project of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO, previously the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, or SDIO) and NASA. As such there was a much greater degree of military involvement in the project and also vastly more secrecy and security than we typically expect when NASA conducts missions without such partners.

While I don’t believe it is possible to draw any firm conclusions until we actually have another lunar mission that puts men back on the moon – it is nonetheless very interesting – at least to me – that any features of the lunar landscape would be intentionally obfuscated. In my mind the question: “what are they hiding up there?” Appears to be perfectly reasonable given that we’ve always been told that the moon is a dry, desolate, airless, lifeless satellite itself and that there is no chance that life ever existed there in any form.

I certainly can’t reach any conclusions myself but I can say that I’m no longer certain that we can trust NASA to give us the unvarnished truth about what they’ve found on the moon or even on other planets – like Mars – where even more curious images and even greater evidence of image tampering have been found by diligent researchers.

In any case, I’ve pulled together a collection of links from around the web that feature some of the most unusual and anomalous items found in various lunar images. Take a look at them and decide for yourself if NASA is telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what they’ve discovered in the not so distant reaches of space that we’ve visited over the past 50 years.

Posted in Lunar Anomalies, Pearltrees, Ufology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

[Most] Companies Don’t Get Social Media

smbandwagonAs someone that actively works in social media I’ve become progressively more convinced that the majority of companies don’t have a clue about social media or the importance it can play in the way a company presents itself.  Granted, there are some companies that do understand the potential benefits that they can derive from a properly conceived social media effort but far more not only fail to grasp just how valuable this new form or marketing and customer contact can be they also seem to be totally unaware of the pitfalls that a badly executed campaign can have.

My evidence for this is the people most companies are hiring for their social media efforts as well as the incredibly low pay they offer when they are hiring people to execute their social media strategies.

Check this out:


Check out the pay offered for this group of social media listings.  Just what kind of people do these companies think they’ll get for $3.50 an hour?  This is less than half of the minimum wage here in California.  Not to be disrespectful of people that work for minimum wage but does it really make sense to trust the public facing aspects of your company to a person that would be willing to work for less than they’d be able to pull in doing ANY OTHER PAYING WORK?

These are the people on the front lines of your company.  They’re the first ones that are going to be communicating with your customers, getting your corporate message out there to the world, dealing with complaints, moderating disputes and hopefully building your online community.

To put it another way, would you trust your automobile to a mechanic that charged you $3.50 per hour to repair it?  And if you did, would you honestly be surprised if things went drastically wrong shortly after you picked the vehicle up from the garage?

I don’t think this issue is due to the fact that companies don’t have the money to spend, rather I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that senior management doesn’t really have a clue what a social media campaign is, how to execute one or whom they should bring on board to do the heavy lifting.

A company that really understands social media realizes just how crucial these people on the front lines can be and it hires (and pays) accordingly.  In fact the companies that really get it generally have a senior executive charged with the execution of their social media efforts and in turn, this individual either acts as the forward facing evangelist, community manager, corporate blogger, etc. on behalf of the company or he or she hires experienced, talented, educated people that themselves already have significant social media experience to execute the strategy that the executive has conceived.
What they don’t do is offer a few bucks an hour to whomever they can find to do the work.

The results can be correlated directly to which approach a company chooses to take – either they have a social media strategy that benefits the company in numerous ways or they have a social media disaster that results in a cobbled together and ineffective social media campaign that at best does nothing to bolster the company’s image and at worst can have disastrous results that give the company a black eye.

In the former case the company realizes the value of their efforts which reaffirms their decision to put real money and qualified personnel in community facing positions while in the latter it reaffirms their executive’s views that social media is not a viable arena in which to invest.

For those companies that fall into the latter group I have some advice: either make a real commitment to social media, invest in quality people (by paying a reasonable amount for qualified individuals that can show you how to execute a campaign) or simply abandon your efforts entirely.  This is not a playground for the fainthearted or uncommitted.  You’d be better off doing nothing then doing something half-baked and discovering too late that a bad social media strategy is much worse for your company than no strategy at all.

Posted in web2.0 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rules is Rules…

Good news: It was a normal day in  Sharon  Springs, Kansas when a Union Pacific
crew boarded a loaded coal train for the 234 miles trek to Salina .

The Bad news: Just a few miles into the trip a wheel bearing became overheated
and melted, letting a metal support drop down and grind on the rail, creating
white hot molten metal droppings spewing down to the rail.

The Good news: A very alert crew noticed smoke about halfway back in the
train and immediately stopped the train in compliance with the rules.

The Bad news: The train stopped with the hot wheel over a wooden bridge
with creosote ties and trusses.

The crew tried to explain to higher-ups but were instructed not to move the train!

They were instructed Rules prohibit moving the train when a part is defective!



(Don’t let common sense get in the way of a good disaster!)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Dark Poetry

Vengeance is My Name

I’m dark and I’m dirty,
I’m hungry and alone
The concrete’s hard beneath my back
The cold wind chills my bones

I wasn’t always like this I didn’t call this sidewalk home
I had a wife we had two children
And a house we’d made our own

I never thought that it could happen
Never dreamed in my worst dreams
That I’d lose what I loved most
Or have to hear their screams

Tried to drink away the sadness
Tried to drug away the pain
I tried to kill the past or kill myself
I tried to dowse the flame

But if you see into my heart
It burns there just the same
It burns white hot with hatred
It crackles with my rage
It paces like a tiger, restless in its cage

It drove me to this madness
And it left me in this place
It burned a hole right through me
It vaporized my faith

I’m cut loose from my moorings
Lost my compass and my map
My perfect storm is howling
And I’m about to snap

I’ve asked the gods and asked myself
How much can one man take
I’ve asked myself and asked the gods
When will I finally break

But only the wind answers
I can hear it call my name
Except that I don’t speak its language
Or understand its game

I know that I look broken
And I guess it’s likely true
But I’ve never been a quitter
When I’ve got work to do

The knife I’ve got is razor sharp
I’m loaded and I’m locked
I’m well prepared for violence
I’m watching like a hawk

Don’t think that I don’t see you
Even though you don’t see me
This grime is just my camouflage
The mask I wear ain’t me

So I’m waiting for my moment
Waiting til the time is right
I’ve got nothing if not patience
I will get you in my sights

You’ll never hear me coming
You won’t have time to scream
Your life won’t flash before your eyes
A white light won’t be seen

I’ll wipe you from this planet
And you’re going straight to hell
But I don’t think you’ll be lonely
Cause I’m going there as well

Though I might not come directly
There is still so much to do
I’ve got to find the others, the others such as you.

You can warn them that I’m coming
You can tell them that I’m near
But this will never stop me
Nor move me from path
I’ve dug the graves for each of us
I’ve crushed the grapes of wrath

See my hands are steady
And I know what I must do
My heart is set on bloodshed
The first victim is you

Don’t think that makes you special, privileged or unique.
My list is long with targets cause it’s revenge I seek

Although my body’s weary
Although my soul aches
I’m driven by my madness
And the lives I’ve vowed to take

I’ll sleep well when it’s over
When I put to bed this pain
Until then I’ll keep hunting
Cause vengeance is my name

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Verizon “Zings” Customers for $1.99 – Claims it Didn’t Mean To

The AP and Wireless Week are reporting that Verizon customers in Cleveland are complaining of being billed $1.99 by V erizon for Data Services that they didn’t use.

The problem,  originally received attention by the Cleveland Plains Dealer, a local newspaper, when a reader wrote in to complain about the issue.  Soon another 400 area residents echoed the complaint at which point the Verizon spin machine swung into gear.  Four Verizon executives spent 90 minutes at the newspaper’s offices on Monday including Roger Tang, the company’s regional president for Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who said Verizon is investigating every complaint, because it doesn’t want to “zing” customers on their bills.

I just love their creative vernacular.  “Zing”.  Why not call it what it really is – theft.  If people actually audited their phone bills every month they would be shocked to discover just how many times their bills are inaccurate in favor of their carrier.  In fact every single time I’ve spent the hour it takes to really specifically audit my own bill I’ve found errors that far exceed $1.99.

This isn’t a case of simple mistakes much as the carriers would like us to believe.  It is a case of theft pure and simple.  These companies add millions and probably even tens of millions in additional revenue to their bottom lines ever year as the result of exactly this sort of thing.  How long, do you suppose, this was going on before someone noticed that they were being billed for a service that they didn’t subscribe to and didn’t use.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  How many of us know which “cost recovery” surcharges are legal and applicable to our bills?  Anyone?  The simple fact of the matter is that carriers can pretty much steal from all of us with impunity and when someone finally wises up and makes a stink they apologize for accidentally “zinging” us and then they rename the now exposed rip-off something else like Universal Cost Recovery Surcharge (recovery from what?  the taxes that they are supposed to pay and which they are levying back onto their customers?) and add another $1.00 to the number and make off with even more of our coin.

Part of the problem with the US these days is the fact that corporations are running roughshod over consumers and the very body that is supposed to be looking out for us, from the President and on to the Senate and Congress are so deep in the pocket of these companies that they may as well simply be on the payroll.

Every day I see a new abuse by a big company and it makes me think that the only way this country will ever get back on its feet is if someone pulls a “fight club” on big business.

Posted in big brother, Blog Power, carriers, Personal, Political | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s a Great List of Free Open Source Software for Mac

You may have seen this list already, but I hadn’t come across it before just now and it was good enough I thought it was worth sharing in case anyone besides me had somehow missed this before. Enjoy.

Posted in Apple, Free Stuff, Mac Software, Open Source | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

District 9 Opens Today: here’s a “pre” preview

Neill Blomkamp who previously directed Halo and Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame are behind the massively promoted new movie District Nine which opens today nationwide. I’m assuming most readers of this blog are Sci-fi fans who plan on eventually seeing this new film.

What you might not know is that Blomkamp actually created a short film predecessor to District 9 called Alive in Joberg that has been on YouTube for about three years. Here it is in case you missed it:
[YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNReejO7Zu8;autoplay=0 420,344]

You can also catch an interview with Blomkamp and D9’s star Copley here and one of the trailers for the movie here.

If you’ve seen the film please let us know what you think in the comments. Thanks.

Posted in Personal, Ufology, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Listening 101 Should be a Required Course for All Physicians

Recently I’ve noticed something with physicians and it has begun to bother me a lot.  They don’t seem to listen to their patients anymore.  Granted, it is possible that I’ve just been unlucky with the doctors I have seen recently but it seems odd that in the past 24 months every single doctor I’ve visited save one – and that one happened to be a personal friend – have all provided what I would consider to be very poor care principally because they don’t seem to listen to what I’m telling them.

I’m wondering if this problem is unique to me or if other physicians are likewise treating patients the way I’ve been treated.  Anyone have a “doctor didn’t listen” experience they’d like to share?

Frankly I find the fact that a doctor wouldn’t listen to me or would out and out disregard what I was telling them out of hand because what I was describing was either unfamiliar or uncommon or else was something that caused them to come to an erroneous conclusion before they’d even done diagnostic tests.

In my case I had one doctor tell me that was I was experiencing was “impossible” another looked at an image I had taken of a microscopic specimen and said “I don’t know what that is but this is what is wrong with you”, while a third actually refused to look at images I brought with me even though the entire reason for the visit was so he could evaluate the images I had brought with me after he’d declined to evaluate them over email telling me that I needed to bring them in for an office visit if I wanted them evaluated.

Frankly each and every one of these “medical professionals” could have used a good dose of listening 101 in their training. Or at least a good listening refresher course.

I mean how arrogant is it for a doctor to tell someone – and particularly someone that was a professional athlete and thus has spent the better part of his life keenly focused on his body, as well as someone that has a biology and biochemistry plus exercise physiology background that they can’t possibly be experiencing what it is that they’re complaining of.

I mean, I’ve only been driving around in my body for the last 41 years, but hey – Dr “I don’t listen to patients” can look at me for fifteen seconds and without performing a single one of the recommended diagnostic tests for my complaint can tell me that I am imagining things.

Except of course that I wasn’t and when I finally decided to trouble my friend for care – he (who happens to be the only professional I visited that DESERVES to be called a doctor) simply did the diagnostic tests recommended for my complaint and found out that yes- I was correct.

This got me thinking – if I’d been less certain of what was ailing me – or if I hadn’t had my own very high quality microscope and the skill to use it – or if I hadn’t persisted seeing different doctors for more than 18 months, and finally if I hadn’t ultimately prevailed upon my friend to look at me and listen to my complaint – just how long would it have taken me to get an accurate diagnosis and thus proper treatment?  2 more years?  4?  Never?  (or until perhaps my problem because life threatening and thus demanded that a truly skilled physician be brought in to figure out what was wrong?)

So what about other people with less knowledge or fewer resources?  Judging from my experience the tremendous arrogance and ego of many physicians is resulting in a lot of people simply not getting the treatment they need because the doctors they are seeing aren’t even doing the job for which they’re being paid.

Since when did it become standard practice for a doctor to ask you what was wrong and then decide that you weren’t really sick after all?

I have an acquaintance that was just diagnosed with Aggressive Stage 4 Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma.  Okay, this might be an uncommon cancer and it might be one that attacked so savagely and so suddenly that it basically riddled his body with cancer overnight – but explain this…The guy has been living with HIV/AIDS for 20 years.  He’s also an Iraq 1 vet and he has recently had two surgeries for a detached retina.  In other words he’s been seen by physicians countless times in the least year.  He’s had blood work done literally dozens of times.  He’d been complaining of pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, and more regularly for the past few months but it wasn’t until he ended up in the emergency room nearly dead from anemia that they finally figured out that he had cancer.

Do you really believe that this cancer just suddenly cropped up?  Or did his doctors fail to look for it because they were making assumptions about his condition based upon his other illnesses?

Seriously, folks, this kind of thing is a big wake up call.  if a doctor won’t listen to us when we describe what ails us and they wish to suggest a course of treatment that is based upon their “considered opinion” one that was reached without performing even the most basic diagnostic tests – this is a problem.

I’ve finally learned that believing a doctor who doesn’t show me the courtesy of believing me first is a big mistake.  While I’ll never know if any of my “non-listening doctors” actually listened to their practice administrators when they went over my complaints with them I do know one thing –  if a doctor won’t do me the courtesy of listening to why I’m there in the first place I hardly think I owe them the money they’re expecting for the service that they chose not to provide.

It’s simple, really.  Listen up – do the right tests and then tell me what’s wrong and I’ll gladly pay you – but if you think for one second that you can take that arrogant “I know better because I’m a medical professional” approach with me, you’re in for a surprise; you don’t take my word for what ails me – why should I take your word that you have a clue what you’re talking about?

And if you’re reading this, Doctors Scheer, Katona, or Carsico – I’ve got a chart to send you and I’ll be expecting my refund and an apology in your responses.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment