Earth Hour 2014

This is going to be short and sweet, so please read it.

Earth Hour LogoLooking back through the archives, I was a little shocked to see that I had never posted about Earth Hour before. Earth what I hear you cry! If you were tuned in on Monday you would have seen my attention grabbing untitled post, which linked to the Earth Hour about us page.

Today I give you a challenge, join millions of people around the world in turning off your lights from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

From 8.30 tonight, turn off all your non-essential lighting for one hour, to show your support for WWF’s Earth Hour. If you work at an airport, take heed of the non-essential bit and keep the runway lights on!

Big Ben Clock Tower, The Eiffel Tower and The Empire State Building with lights off for Earth Hour

Lights off around the world for Earth Hour.

There are all sorts of fantastic projects that now take place because of Earth Hour; an event that only started in 2007. Here are just a few of the great projects that you can sponsor:

  • Protect villagers in Bangladesh from tigers by installing solar lights
  • Support rangers who help to prevent poaching
  • Help bring power to remote villages
  • Fund corral reef protection awareness

Show your support tonight, be a hero. :-)

Useful Christmas Gifts

In some parts of the world Christmas is well on the way, and shoppers are happily spending the bank’s money in shopping centres to buy presents for their loved ones.

In my family we have a different approach, and I would like readers to consider the model. It might possibly go some way to improving the welfare of many and the health of the global community at large.

The charity OXFAM offer a wonderful service called Oxfam Unwrapped. Why not buy a present for someone but have it delivered to someone who really needs it? I like this system, although I have some suggestions that I will make later.

So each year I buy my brother a set of school books for English language teaching through Oxfam. My brother speaks good English however, and so Oxfam send the books to a school in Malawi, where they serve a full class of bright and eager Malawian kids. My brother receives a card directly from Oxfam letting him know that his gift from me of 26 school books has been delivered by Santa to the school.

Everyone is happy.

The Unwrapped service offers all kinds of gifts, but I would stick to inanimate objects, project funding or education rather than live animals, although this is just a personal choice. The introduction of a live animal might cause problems to a family though (only my personal idea), as circumstances might not be ideal for their arrival.

I must admit that even living in affluent Cambridge Massachusetts, the arrival of a cow or even a couple of chickens or goats would not be too easy to manage, and I am sure that other situations exist that might not be improved, albeit through good will, by addition to the family. I am sure Oxfam know what they are doing though, they have been working in this field for many years.

Another possibility is to donate to research, projects or product development.

I like the idea of sending something to benefit others, and there are many ways of doing this. Just for a single example take a look at these coffee mugs. Each mug has the logo of the beneficiary printed on it, and 50% of the price is donated directly to the organizations.

Or donate to a project that is working to improve lives. The Liter of light project I wrote about earlier in the year is in need of funds, and there is another local project that is close to my heart that involves playing football (soccer).

A group of Harvard University students (women) had an idea a few years ago that has finally come to fruition. They have designed a football that can convert the energy created as it is being used into electric power. So the ball has a small socket within its cover, an inductive coil mechanism turns the kinetic energy into enough power to run a light for 3 hours after just 15 minutes of play.

Socckett powering a light

Soccket powering a phone

After a full match the ref can charge his or her mobile phone.

Soccket, as the ball is called, is currently under trial in South Africa, and they could do with some advance orders to help its development. They are giving the balls away for free. You can buy one at the company website, and they will give it to someone on your behalf. They also have a skipping rope (jump rope) that works in the same way as the ball, so if football is not your sport of choice you can still join in the fun.

If we all diverted a portion of the money we spend this Christmas to projects whose goals are to improve lives, we could make a lot of difference. We could avoid battling other shoppers, buying needless things, creating thousands of tons of waste and modify an extremely wasteful and destructive economic system.

We could all do a little bit of good, and as William Shakespeare once said “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world”.

Blog Action Day 2013

Blogs all across the world are talking about human rights today. For the fourth year in a row I am taking part in Blog Action Day.

Blog Action Day's logoThis year the topic is human rights.

I am going to share with you might thoughts on the relationship between the Internet and human rights.

Imagine what it would be like if every day, a cloaked figure followed you around, observing your every action and taking notes. It would be a bit creepy wouldn’t it, not to mention the privacy issues.

Back in 2011, I wrote a post asking whether everyone should be entitled to use the Internet and whether in fact it should be a human right. Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg believes that it should be; make your own decision as to whether this is only because he wants more business for his site.

So, imagine what it would be like with Mark Zuckerberg following you around all day, taking notes on what you do, invading your privacy… hold on, if you are on Facebook, he kind of does.

See how I linked that. ;-)

I am no stranger to complaining about Facebook, but it isn’t the only culprit, Google is also a huge threat to online privacy. It stores all information it collects about you for at least 18 months. Why? In the words of Hungry Beast, because “Google wants to know who you are, where you are and what you like, so it can target ads at you.Check out Hungry Beast’s video to scare yourself.

So to get to the point, I don’t believe access to the Internet need be a human right, (not yet anyway) however I do believe that the right to privacy online should be. The United Nations logoArticle 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Why does this not cover our online lives too? Should Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple (and others) be allowed to monitor us so much?

I shall keep this short and sweet and leave you with those thoughts.

The power of the social networks and the media

Many people take a very negative view of the media. In the UK, there has recently been a press standards enquiry, which looked into the unethical practices some media organisations (specifically newspapers) were using.

Many people also take a negative view of social networks. Twitter has been in the firing line a lot lately, helping to break super injunctions and spread rumours at amazing speed.

I think sometimes we forget that the press and social media can also be a force for good, and so in this article I am going to talk about something positive that only happened thanks to the power of the media and social networks.

The Story

Martha Payne is a nine-year-old girl from Argyll and Bute, (Scotland) who started a blog in May this year called NeverSeconds. On the blog she wrote about her school dinners, under the alias of Veg. She took a camera into school and photographed her school dinner. When she got home, she wrote about it, posted a picture, and then rated each meal.

She gave the food a rating out of ten on her ‘Food-o-meter‘ scale, detailed how many mouthfuls it took her to eat it, what courses it was (i.e. starter and main or main and dessert), how healthy (out of ten) she rated it, the price, and how many pieces of hair she found on it – and yes, one day she did find one!

Martha Payne's first blog

Martha’s first image on her blog – pizza, croquet, sweetcorn and a cake, a meal she rated 6/10 on her food-o-meter

Martha set up a link on her blog to the charity Mary’s Meals, with the aim of raising £7,000 for the charity, through donations from those who read her posts.

All was going well for Martha, until her blog featured in a local newspaper. Here’s what happened in Martha’s words:

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.

Goodbye,
VEG”

So that was it. Martha Payne, a nine-year-old girl who ran a blog with the aim of raising some money for charity, and developing her language skills through writing about her school dinners, was no longer allowed to blog.

It was actually the local council that had told the school to ban Martha from posting, as they were unhappy with the coverage of the story in the local paper. It was alleged that the article had made catering staff fearful for their jobs.

The publicity generated from the local paper reporting on the blog helped Martha to reach nearly £2,000 in donations for Mary’s Meals, an amazing achievement, which is why it is such a shame that the blog had to be shut down.

A sad end to the blogging career of a little girl with good intentions.

But it didn’t end there.

The news reached the council leader who was unhappy with the action taken, and as a result instructed senior officials to lift the ban.

Martha could blog again!

This was now a big story, and national media organisations were keen to publish their account of events. The Telegraph, The Guardian and BBC news were some of the most notable media organisations to cover the story. Most notable, the BBC article received well over 1,000 comments, and tens of thousands of social shares!

Going Viral

Martha Payne from NeverSeconds

Martha Payne – NeverSeconds Author

First it was just a story. Then it hit the media. Now it was the turn of Facebook and Twitter. Within hours of the BBC publishing their article, tens of thousands of people had shared it, and the NeverSeconds blog hit counter soared from a few thousand views to over a million! Martha was soon trending on Twitter.

The story was so inspirational, many people wanted to pay tribute to Martha’s fantastic work, and did so by donating to the charity she supported – Mary’s Meals. Martha smashed her £7,000 target in a matter of hours, as donations to the charity flooded in. Overnight, Martha became the top fund raiser for Mary’s Meals on the JustGiving website.

By the end of the week, (in just 4 days) donations had topped £50,000! This prompted even more publicity, as the media reported on the remarkable story of the girl who raised tens of thousands for charity, by writing about her school meals.

The NeverSeconds site hit counter now reads in excess of eight million and the donations to Mary’s Meals are over 1750% of Martha’s £7,000 target – currently standing at £123,969.32.

Martha has since been out to Malawi to see one of the projects her fund raising efforts went to help. For more information on her trip, have a read of this BBC news article.

Martha has been named as the Human Rights Young Person of the Year, for her outstanding work, and continues to blog over at NeverSeconds to this day.

The Streisand Effect

This story is a fantastic example of how the media and social networking can be a force for good, and encourage people to think of others. It is also a good example of the Streisand effect in action, the concept whereby attempting to cover something up, thanks to the internet, leads to that very thing getting greater publicity.

Smile today for the story of NeverSeconds :-)

Blog Action Day 2012

Today is Blog Action Day! In 2010 I blogged about water. In 2011 I blogged about food. This year I am going to blog about the Power of We.

So what is Blog Action Day? For a quick recap, here is an extract of my article from last year:

Every year (for the past four years) on the 15th of October, there is a global Blog Action Day, where bloggers around the world write about one common problem in the world today, in order to try to raise awareness of a pressing issue.

Today is the 6th Blog Action Day in internet history, and tens of thousands of bloggers around the world will today be blogging about the Power of We.

The Power of We came about as a topic after bloggers were asked to vote on what topic they thought Blog Action Day 2012 should cover. Topics such as community, equality, anti-corruption and freedom (as suggested by yours truly) were all very popular, so the Blog Action Day team decided to make the theme the Power of We, a topic that encompassed community, equality, anti-corruption and freedom.

What To Blog About

Blog Action Day - The Power of WeThis year I am really at a loss as to what to blog about. Not because I have no ideas, but because the topic is so broad that I could write 10 posts on all different areas encompassed by the Power of We.

Here are just some of the ideas I had

  • Focusing more on the freedom side of things, I could have discussed the power of people when we all act together and the influence we can have. The Arab Spring is a fantastic example of this, when people act together they can crush oppression. Libya is probably the best example of how this happened, people worked together and eventually managed to bring down the Gaddafi dictatorship. Yes lives were lost and change was not without suffering, and that is wrong, however now Libyan people are in the process of forming a democratic state. The country now has an elected General National Congress, and is moving forward.
  • If I had gone down the equality route I could have talked about how equal rights are becoming recognised as important across the globe. A great example I could have talked about would be the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The London 2012 Games were the first ever to see every competing nation have both men and women competing, a massive step forwards in terms of gender equality. Also the global recognition the Paralympic Games received was a fantastic achievement. For the first time, the Paralympic Games had big sponsorship, like the Olympic Games has, suggesting that discrimination against disabled people has decreased, and people are now more open an accepting. Someone is no less a person just because they have a disability, and it would appear that more people are starting to understand this.
  • I could have discussed how every single person on this planet has the ability to make a difference to the world we live in. Maybe not everyone is capable of revolutionising the world, however we all have the ability to influence and affect others, and it is what we choose to do with that influence and how we decide to interact with other people that makes us who we are. Everyone has the chance to be kind to someone else at some point, some people more than others. If we were all to seize every opportunity imagine what a better place the world would be.

There are so many different ideas and topics that I considered writing about, however in the end I decided to focus on an area much close to my heart.

The Power of We means community, what we can achieve if we work together. Co-operation for the greater good.

The Power of We is everything Blog Action Day stands for, relatively small and powerless bloggers from across the globe, uniting on one day, all posting about the same topic, to try and change something by raising awareness. In the past the day has been used to raise awareness about the environment, hunger, poverty and other critical issues. Blog Action Day has led people to donate to charity and has created a better understanding among many of pressing global issues.

I have no doubt that Blog Action Day has improved the lives of people around the world. The project has managed to get some fantastic associates such as Oxfam and ActionAid, because of the great work it does.

Blog Action Day's logoSo, what about my post?

I am going to talk about the community we have here, the one you are a part of. The Technology Bloggers community. Okay we aren’t changing the world on a global scale, however we play our part.

The key word is community. We are all here working together in order to build a better blog, from which we can all prosper. Fantastic writers from all across the world contribute to our blog, giving readers a diverse range of material to read.

Why do we read? To enrich our lives, to learn new things and become knowledgeable on a topic. Reading makes us smarter, it opens up our mind to new ideas and concepts.

In return for their work, our writers get exposure to our hundreds of loyal subscribers and our thousands of monthly of readers.

Ultimately there only needs to be two people for the system to work. The writer writes the content, the reader reads and comments. The reader learns something and/or is able to take a new perspective on something, whilst the writer receives valuable feedback on their work. Just two people, and yet so powerful when working together.

Man kind wouldn’t be where we are today without co-operative work. When we work together as a team we can achieve more. It says it in the name: Together Everyone Achieves More.

Co-operation has built society as we know it. Every day, billions of people across the world go to work and co-operate with each other, to enhance and improve our world.

Ultimately I think this year I may have gone a little too broad in my choice of topic. I had so many ideas, and wanted to write about everything, and I think I have sort of tried to. I am not sure how well it has worked, this certainly isn’t your conventional post.

What are your thoughts, and will you be blogging about the Power of We?

Blog Action Day 2011

It’s not often we post on a Sunday. In fact I think this is the first time we ever have. The reason for this post is clearly one of high importance then…

UPDATE: I have since discovered that this is our second post on a Sunday, the first being a warning to potential writers about providing copied content – another (although slightly less) important matter.

Every year (for the past four years) on the 15th of October, there is a global Blog Action Day, where bloggers around the world write about one common problem in the world today, in order to try to raise awareness of a pressing issue.

This year the day have been moved back to the 16th of October (today) as that makes it coincide with World Food Day. Unsurprisingly, this years Blog Action Day theme is on food.

A history of Blog Action Day

The first Blog Action Day was held in 2007. The 2007 theme was the environment. At the time, one of the main global concerns (not that it isn’t even more so now) was regarding the sustainability of our current way of life, and the environmental impact, be it global warming, climate change, ecosystem instability or environmental degradation.

The world is in our hands

A green coloured globe represents the environment, which is held carefully in someone’s hands – representing how we control the future of our planet

Blog Action Day took off with a bang with around 20,000 blogs taking part, of which, there were around 20 in Technorati’s top 100 blogs – at the time. This proves that from day 1, Blog Action Day had a big influence, giving it a big potential to actually raise awareness and improve things that it petitions for.

2008 saw an equally important matter being raised: poverty. Poverty is a very pressing issue, and is part of the UN’s 8 Millennium Development Goals which it hoped to meet by 2015.

In 2009 the theme changed to climate change. The phrase ‘global warming’ used to be used before we realised that it wasn’t a very good term, as it’s not just warming that is likely to take place.

The world’s climate is so intricate and complex that you couldn’t say that increase in greenhouse gasses via intensive farming of rice, rearing of cows, burning of fossil fuels, cutting down of rainforests etc. would cause global temperatures to rise, as it wouldn’t necessarily do that everywhere, all the time.

Melting Ice Caps - A Sign of Climate Change

Melting ice caps are a symptom linked to climate change

Hence the term climate change was born in order to supersed the term ‘global warming’ in describing the likelihood of an increase in extreme and irregular weather/climate patterns.

In 2010 Blog Action Day moved onto stressing the importance (and scarcity) of water. Currently most people in the developed world use far more water than should really be available to them, if all water supplies were equally divided.

Only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, of which the majority is ‘locked up’ in the form of ice. This means that less than 0.007% of all the worlds water drinkable and accessible. This matched with an exponentially rising global population is why over 20% of the world’s population don’t have access to safe drinking water, and one in three people around the world have inadequate sanitation.

One in Five People Don't Have Access to Safe Drinking Water2011 – Food

Now down to matter in hand – Blog Action Day 2011. As I have already mentioned, today is World Food Day, and Blog Action Day’s focus for this year is food.

World Food Day marks the 1945 foundation of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN project aimed at achieving food security for all, as well as making sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality, nutritional food, to lead active healthy lives.

Why should we worry about food?

In the words of Blog Action Day’s website:

“We use food to mark times of celebration and sorrow. Lack of access to food causes devastating famines, whilst too much is causing a generation of new health problems. It can cost the world, or be too cheap for farmers to make a living.

The way we companies produce food and drinks can provide important jobs for communities or be completely destructive to habitats and local food producers. Food can give us energy to get through the day or contain ingredients that gives us allergic reactions.

Food can cooked by highly skilled chefs with inventive flair, or mass produced and delivered with speed at the side of road. It can be incredibly healthy or complete junk and bad for your health. It can taste delicious or be a locals only delicacy.

Food is important to our culture, identity and daily sustenance and the team at Blog Action invite you to join us to talk about food.”

Nobody alive today can live without food for more than a month, and a lack of inadequate amounts/types of food can also kill.

Many people don’t realise it, but the greedy ‘Western’ lifestyle is the main reason for food issues around the world. Developed countries are getting too fat, whilst undeveloped ones are not getting enough food. According to the UN, malnutrition kills a child around the world every 15 seconds. That is heart breaking.

Westerners waste so much food, it is disgusting, even more so because of the fact that there are people who don’t have enough of the right foods (or any food at all for that matter) to eat.

How can you help?

If you want to help on a personal level there are two main things you can do.

  1. Try to source as much of your food as locally as you can. This helps local producers, as well as reduced greenhouse emission and water loss from undeveloped countries who use vast amounts of their scarce water to produce food for us. Some global food purchases can be justified, so try to pay attention to where your food is coming from and what the impact of getting it to you is.
  2. Donate to a crisis. There is currently a famine in Eastern Africa, and charities are there to help, but they need your help, be it through voluntary work or capital donations. I an not listing any charities, as it’s often better to decide yourself which ones to support.

You could also blog about the topic. If you have a blog, I wholeheartedly recommend you help to raise awareness yourself. If you read this a day or two late, don’t worry you missed the date, sill write about it and raise awareness. I missed the day last year, but I still blogged about it.

Blog Action Day suggest some topic areas you might like to discuss, which can be helpful if you are not sure where to start.

Blog Action Day 2011 Bagde

Technology Bloggers is supporting Blog Action Day!

If you do decide to write about Blog Action Day, you can register your blog with them, on their official list, so that they know roughly how many blogs took part.

The final way (I can think of at the moment) to help the Blog Action Day cause is to like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Technology Bloggers is already doing this.

Please do your bit for the world and support Blog Action Day in whatever way you can.