Monthly Archives: June 2009

Quotes for the week ending 27 June, 2009

“Michael Jackson is dead” seems like a very insensitive opening line. Should this be changed?”

Wikipedia editors debating the news of Michael Jackson’s death. News of his passing broke on Wikipedia long before it did on CNN or BBC.

“My thoughts are with his family at this time. But the instant Twitter put out in my name last night was not me.”

British foreign secretary, David Miliband, commenting about a fake tweets in his name that said “Never has one soared so high and yet dived so low. RIP Michael.” The Foreign Office has categorically stated that Miliband does not have a Twitter account. The Foreign Office, however, does. Huge difference.

“Way to go Foreign Office, using this tragic loss to promote your own Twitter account!”

Guardian, commenting on the denial made on the foreign secretary’s blog. To which one commenter had this to say:

“Could you maybe do something better with your day such as run the country competently instead of worrying about Michael Jackson?”

S. Miller, a visitor to Miliband’s blog

“The bottom line is that it was a serious misjudgement. They have used a political and human situation that many people are concerned about, to market their products and services, and that is not right.”

Alex Burmaster, communications director Nielsen Online, commenting on Habitat, a furniture store in England, that used unrelated Twitter hashtags to promote itself.

“If you shine the light on other people in social media, eventually that light will shine on you.”

Jason Baer, on things he has learned since he started his blog one year ago.

“Learning is messy, but digital text changes things. Students will edit more, link more, seek more sources, be reflective”

Presentation by David Truss, on how the role of the teacher has changed in a 2.0 world.



Teaching in a 2.0 world

I meet a lot of lecturers and researchers in my job, because they are all using advanced modeling and scientific tools to engage students and look at knowledge in new dimensions.

I also meet a lot of high school teachers who are family friends and professional colleagues. It’s impossible to miss the big shift happening in the classroom, no different from the big changes going on in PR agencies or marketing departments. At the risk of over-simplifying things,what’s going on is the decentralization of knowledge, and the loss of control. In a good way, that is, when it refers to the classroom.

This presentation best illustrates what I am talking about. Via Devon Adams, who’s Teacher 2.0 approach best illustrates this shift.

If you can’t see the video above, click here



Bad week for blogger & radio hosts, mixed week for txt & tweets

Talk about mixed signals!

I came across two SMS stories that left me feeling that we are still getting our minds and lives around the potential of one-to-one communication and what social media has delivered.


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Seven building blocks for a good story

We all tell stories, in some shape or form. They could start off with something like “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Anna Karenina). For the rest of us –even as we question the established technique– there are several ways to go after and craft a good story.

Tom Hallman, in last month’s Quill the magazine of the Society for Professional Journalists wrote a great piece on what separates a good story from a great one.

  1. Distance – a story is more than a bunch of quotes, he says.
  2. Stories are about things - People, not ‘things’ give people a chance to identify with the story
  3. Direction - take the reader someplace
  4. Pacing – Vary lengths of paragraphs
  5. Theme – the best stories have an universal theme
  6. Voice – this speaks for itself. You need to find your voice
  7. Strong middle and powerful endings  - pay attention to the entire story, not just the beginning

From: Building Blocks to a good story.

Hallman is a Pulitzer prize winner and features writer for the Oregonian.

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Posted by on June 24, 2009 in Best Practices, Journalism


Wolfram Alpha: Like you need one more search engine!

I came across a really neat search engine, with an intriguing name of Wolfram|Alpha. It’s been just a month in business!

No, it’s not yet another search engine! (Especially after the hoopla over Bing – basically a re-branding of Microsoft’s un-sexy Live Search.) It’s a darn smart search tool for data-driven questions. The Wolfram Alpha folk call a a knowledge engine.

Why is this geeky search engine so useful?

You can get factual, unbiased answers to queries that involve a range of things from science and demographics to mathematics. It takes some learning how to use the query. You can use it for a veriety of reasons when you are working on reports, proposals, stories, or you just need to feed your brain!

For example:

  • You need to convert  20 million Italian Lira to US dollars. You simply type in 20,000,000 Lira (or Rupees or Yen) and hit the = sign. It converts it 5 currencies. But that’s not all. You can search a date in history and see data about that particular day.
  • If you want to compare the populations of Arizona, Texas and Nevada, you need to type ‘population Arizona Texas Nevada” and hit the equal sign –to get this result.
  • Get more detail demographic data. Let’s say you’re doing a story about people killed in the latest mass protests in Tehran. Type out “life expectancy of females in Iran” and you get some detailed numbers. (In Google, you’d have to sift through 54,000 results)
  • Check up on a web site by typing in the url. Say I wanted to chec Wikipedia. Using gave me this with data about page views, visitors (120 million a day!) etc
  • Or simple things. You’d be surprised what you can find out about “one cup of water
  • Need to find something about a person in history on a specific date – say the Prime Minister of England in 1946

Wolfram|Alpha folk call it “an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor”  and is never intended to replace Google. But I find it fascinating how a more intelligent algorithm lets us look at information in smarter, specific ways.

Give it a try!



Quotes for the week ending 20 June 2009

“Students sell their internet access to their neighbors and they also do the same in public offices …”

A BBC report on blogging in China, Vietnam and Cuba, and how Cubans find creative workarounds to poor internet access.

“I wouldn’t know a twitter from a tweeter but apparently it is very important”

Ann Curry, quoting HClinton re: #iranelection

“”In California we vote on everything including whether we have to keep voting on everything.”

Joel Stein, TIME magazine

“We do a whole lot of tweeting during the Chapter 11 … we’re their ears.”

Chris Barger, Dir. of Communications for GM, in The LA Times

“Why hang out with celebrities when I can spend time with people who make me one?”

President Obama making fun at teh Broadcasters’ annual dinner.


Video of Wiki-Wire event with P.J. Haarsma

Follow up to my post a few weeks back on live blogging an event that involved a Wiki, a science fiction writer, an online game at my work place, the Decision Theater.

The Department of English has a video of the presentation and unveiling of the student-created wiki.

Wiki-Wire: YA Lit Meets the Future from ASU English –on Vimeo.



Let’s rediscover the art of storytelling

I was chatting with a friend on Facebook who celebrated his mother’s 87th birthday, and how it’s not too late to listen to the wonderful stories our parents have to tell –if only we listen.

I always regret not recording some of his stories, especially when I spent the last few weeks with my dad. He had a fine art of storytelling. We use to call them ‘long stories’ and ‘yarns’ because he always threw in a bit of drama and lots of narrative detours to keep us riveted. He taught English and history, so he seemed to have the right ingredients of storytelling.

Today I always carry my digital recorder with me, because there are those unexpected moments that just present themselves, and you just want to capture it.

So this project, called the Interview Project from filmmaker David Lynch is something I just love. It is the fine art of letting people tell their own stories, on camera. Listen to this one, for instance, recorded last Saturday, June 13 in Moab Utah.

It reminds me of the StoryCorps project, begun in 2003.

To get back to my friend –and ex journalist — the point I made is that we are so busy telling our stories, posting nuggets of information about our lives, our accomplishments, our backyard barbecue … that we sometimes forget to listen.

I only wish the stories on Interview Project are not so short. They look tightly edited, and you end up feeling that a lot more of, say, Gordon’s story ended up on the cutting floor. Maybe there is a longer version, maybe the stories is part of a larger project. I checked if I could interview the folks behind it, to get the story behind the story.

Stay tuned!


Twitter and the politics of Iran

Follow up to my previous post on Iran.

People have devised two ways for people caught in the middle of the crisis to anonymously post to Twitter.

In related news -related to the perceived power of Twitter over censorship — the State Department apparently asked the folks at Twitter to postpone a scheduled maintenance shutdown. According to this AP report the request was made “to keep information flowing from inside Iran amid the growing crisis over its disputed election.”

Oddly enough, as this is is being posted, Twitter is down for maintenance! On the Twitter blog, they had this to say:

“our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran. Tonight’s planned maintenance has been rescheduled to tomorrow between 2-3p PST (1:30a in Iran).”

As Andrew Sullivan observed in the Atlantic, The revolution will be Twittered.


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Can you really block my voice?

Q: What  might Tehran and Southwest Airlines have in common?

(No, it’s not another ‘peanuts’ joke.)

A: An intolerance with passengers text-chatting online.

Dan York, a tech strategist, author and blogger discovered to his dismay that while Southwest had begun a WiFi Zone on board some of its flights, (and is big on, and well known for using Twitter,) it cut out Skype chat.

But blocking speech at 30,000 feet is the least of our worries in a world that is increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices. It took on a new dimension in Iran this week, in the aftermath of the highly contested elections.  The Associated Press reports that the government has stepped up its Internet filtering and Iranians are unable to send text messages from their phones. The Guardian had this to say:

“Mobile phone text messages were jammed, and news and social networking websites – including the Guardian, the BBC and Facebook – as well as pro-Mousavi websites were blocked or difficult to access.”

But can a government really ‘block’ people’s voices in this age of leaky media. While Twitter  is being blocked in Iran, some tweets that get through publish the addresses of proxy servers that can be accessed undetected.

Someone uploaded –to Flickr! — this screen capture (left) of tweets found using the hash tag #iranelection.

And then the opposition candidate MirHossein Mousavi has been tweeting, as we know.

Despite all this other forms of technology –including jamming –are being used to circumvent the government clampdown.

Even Arab satellite TV news station Al-Arabiya was shut down.

I don’t think we will see an end to governments trying to curb dissent using intimidation and technology, but these events are unwittingly providing those who favor democratic processes good examples of how best to adapt to the next clampdown, the next autocrat, the next crisis.


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