Monthly Archives: September 2005

Acronym watch: UGC

Stuart Hughes: “One of the buzz phrases in the news business right now is user-generated content — or UGC. On July 7th, the day of the London bombings, the BBC received 20,000 e-mails, 1000 photos and 3000 text messages from ordinary people, many of whom were caught up in the attacks.”

I pledge…

I met yesterday with Tom Steinberg, director of MySociety, who has recently created an extraordinary tool for collective action. PledgeBank is one of those ideas that is so brilliantly simple you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.

The idea is to solve the problem of collective action: there are lots of things people are only willing to do if others will do it too. How do you get that first mover? On PledgeBank it’s simple. Anyone can post a pledge: for example, I’ll pick up rubbish on the banks of the River Taff in Cardiff if five other people will too (an actual pledge that worked). After just a couple of months in the UK, the site there has generated thousands of pledges.

Some have spurred significant action. A pledge to donate £10 to a fund to fight government ID cards provided 10,000 others did as well has over 11,000 signatures. So there’s now a financed legal fighting fund to help those who refuse to register for ID cards.

Tom is over here to try and launch PledgeBank in the US. One of the glories of the idea is that it can translate easily to any country (unlike previous MySociety projects like Downing Street Says and Fax Your MP). There are only two US pledges so far. More are needed to get the project rolling.

Googling your way to minimal language proficiency

I like this idea from Bill Poser on Language Log. “Using Google in another language is a fun way to try out a language you don’t know real well. It’s easy to switch to a language you do know well if you get stuck and it isn’t all that complicated.”

I think I’ll start with some language that uses our Latin alphabet, but in time I’d like to branch out. How about a different language a week?

Geek manqué

The goods we shipped from London to Berkeley arrived last week. Most of it is in storage, but we picked out about one-eighth of the total for a variety of reasons.

The most important box contained my wife’s desktop computer. She’s been surviving, barely, with my ancient laptop (circa 1999). So we happily unpacked her computer, set it up and switched it on. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I suspect somewhere in the journey from southeast London to the East Bay the container ship slapped against too big a wave and the judder did for that Dell box.

I trooped over to a local computer store and bought a wonderfully inexpensive eMachines CPU. Everything is now fine. In fact, it’s better because there is a wonderful freedom to having a new machine without all the crud that accumulates over a few years of use (particularly when you allow your children to play on sites that gum your computer up with all sorts of malware).

The one potential hitch was we hadn’t recovered our boxes with various software disks from storage, so we didn’t have any application software. I downloaded OpenOffice 2.0 until we can find my wife’s MS Office disks.

I suspect we won’t bother now. OpenOffice seems to do everything you want (and more: the drawing program and the equation editor far exceed what Office provides). I’ve now downloaded OpenOffice at work and am pretty darned happy with it. I know memory is nearly free these days, but I was impressed that a 197kb Excel file that I opened turned into a 13kb Calc file (still readable and manipulable by Excel) after conversion.

My next step in releasing my inner geek is to convert that ancient laptop into a Linux machine. I figure I can get rid of all the frustrations and slowness of Windows 98 (the processor won’t handle an upgrade to Windows 2000 or XP) and have a nice, clean new environment.

A carbon-neutral Google?

Martin Varsavsky: “If present trends continue computing and computing use and interconnection will soon make up 20% of all our electricity needs up from a current 7%. The person who brought this to my attention was Larry Page. During a session at CGI I asked Larry what he thought were Google’s limit to growth. His surprising reply was: electricity. Google he explained to me is by now the world’s largest owner of computers and therefore the internet’s biggest electricity user. This Larry said was of great concern to him and he was looking of ways to make Google carbon neutral.”

Wise head at Time Warner

I didn’t think I’d ever write the title above. Even when it was just Time Life – before Time Warner, before AOL Time Warner, before the reincarnation as Time Warner – I always viewed the company as the General Motors of media: big, of course, but boring and not innovative.

But Rebecca MacKinnon reports that there is at least one wise head at the top of the corporation. She quotes a Bloomberg report that CEO Richard Parsons decided to pull AOL out of a business opportunity in China becase he didn’t want the company involved in Internet censorship.

From the Bloomberg item:

The “straw that broke the camel’s back” was the government’s insistence that it had the right to monitor all traffic on the service, Richard Parsons, chief executive of Time Warner Inc., said at the media forum.

“You’re given lists of words that you have to block through your service, like democracy,” he said. “We bailed out.”

Time Warner thought about “what we would look like here in the U.S. if we agreed to a governmentally imposed regime where words like democracy had to be blocked,” Parsons said. “We made a judgment that it wasn’t a market that we wanted to enter in this way at this time.”

As MacKinnon writes, “Companies do have a choice.”