Just over the horizon: Pakistan becomes foreign policy issue #1

I’m going to get right into this:  Pakistan is a growing problem, both for America and for the global issue of nuclear proliferation, and now represents the single most important foreign policy issue for America (and NATO).  A bold statement?  Yes.  But recent developments in the region, combined with some troublesome history, is leading me to believe that Pakistan (not Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran) needs to be at the centre of American foreign policy. 

First, I’ll give a quick recap of where the situation currently stands:

Let’s start with America’s military operations in the region.  At this point, it’s inaccurate to call it the Afghan war -America is well into a drone-based bombing campaign in Pakistan.  Also, for some time now, there’s been a push among the top of the US military leaders to expand the Pakistan campaign and engage in more aggressive tactics. Complicating issues even further, it’s pretty clear that factions within the Pakistani Army, notably the secretive S-wing of Pakistan’s spy service, have been aiding the Taliban.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is openly aware of the S-wing ties, but is hesitant to do much about it.  I could go on here explaining the intricacies of the situation, but the links I’ve provided in this paragraph give you a pretty clear picture.

Politically, Pakistan’s government is on shaky ground, with India already declaring them “close” to becoming a failed state, and The Economist citing them as the country at greatest risk of becoming a failed state

With all of their internal and external strife, there’s one issue that’s becoming a major concern – Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  What happens if they become a failed state?  Are their weapons safe and secured? 

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What are they saying in Congress?

(Originally written and posted at www.wikinomics.com)

capitol-cloud-banner

Wordles can be a great way to visualize political discourse, especially when you use them in comparative form. After Inauguration Day in January, Naumi wrote an excellent post , using IBM’s ManyEyes analysis to compare Obama’s inaugural speech to those of his predecessors.

These three tag clouds were all pulled from the Capitol Words Application, another development from the Sunlight Foundation (who we’ve written about previously – here, here and here). Capitol Words is a program that takes every word entered into the congressional record and archives it online in a mashable and searchable form. With different search metrics and visual aids, it allows you to see who’s saying what – broken down by individual, state or date. One application lists the “10 most vocal” and “10 quietest” lawmakers of the last 60 days (over this most recent period, Michael Michaud has only uttered 8 words in Congress, while Richard Durbin has said almost 70 000).

Above, I’ve copied 3 tag clouds. One of them represents all the words that John McCain has entered into Congressional Records over the past year. Another one is from Nancy Pelosi, and the third is from all the representatives from the state of Massachusetts. Can you guess which is which?

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“Futurism”, or “How to Talk like ‘That Guy’ at a Dinner Party”

Futurism is a movement that first started back in the 1930’s. As Wikipedia tells us, it was an “artistic, literary, and political movement that sought to reject the past and rather uncritically embraced speed, technology, and violent change.” Since I’ve spent the last couple months at a Web 2.0 company, I’m all about the rejection of the past. And thumbs up to speed and technology. And who doesn’t at least love reading about violent change?

Now, a lot of Futurists fall into the category of criminally insane, the type of doomsday predictors that you always see mocked in movies and cartoons (“The World will End Tomorrow!”) But when their work is research-based and scientific, they can come up with some pretty cool stuff. That said, there’s a grey area over their scientific methodology – too much grounding in current science sort of defeats the purpose (ie – forecasting population growth), whereas too little makes them little more than a sci-fi writer.

So, if you liked the top Microsoft video (the idea of it anyway, the sexiness is hard to replicate), what are some of the leading Futurist sources available?

The World Futurist Society is well-cited, and their publication, The Futurist Magazine is pretty cool. A recent article in there predicted:
* A global sensor grid may appear by 2018.
* In 2020, sports-goers could be seeing the opening of the first Bionic Olympics.
* By 2025, only 15% of deaths worldwide will be due to infectious diseases, and human lives will be extended at a rate of one year per year.
* Nuclear fusion as a major energy source could be a reality by 2038.

Overall though, the WFS site isn’t as clean as you might like.

Next up, Patrick Dixon’s GlobalChange.com is sort of a portal of various futurist videos. Every video on the site gets rated, which is a good feature. The downside is that a lot of it is business-related, and not too “out there”. Some of the high-ranked videos can be interesting, like this one about the future of consumer space travel, but the bulk of the videos aren’t this cool (not that this one is really cool to begin with).

GlobalChange is worthwhile reading for managers, but lacking the sexiness* of other futurist writings.

Futurist.com is one that I actually really like. There’s a good range of topic areas, and a mix of “coming up soon” and “20 years down the road”. I’d recommend browsing this once in a while. The article “Eleven Events, Trends and Developments that will Change your Life is over 2 years old, but very intriguing (check out invisible computing, and the outward links). Their blog also deserves your weekly readership.

Finally, you’ll notice my recent Tweet about a BusinessWeek article on 20 inventions for the next ten years – check’er out.

So there you have it: Futurism. Check out some of these sites on occassion and at the very least, you can sound like that really cool/smart guy at a dinner party. Or the really nerdy one. Depends on the dinner party.

Crowdsourcing on Mobiles: Reporting the Crisis from Madagascar

(Originally written and posted at www.wikinomics.com)

As I write this blog, a potentially violent crisis is emerging in Madagascar, as the military ceded control of the African country to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina today.  Just two hour ago, the US Department of State ordered all non-emergency workers out of the country amidst fears that previous protests from January, where over 100 people were killed, could be re-sparked.

In the initial round of protests on January 26th, when traditional media reports were unavailable to and from many regions, social media played an important role in information relays.  Now, crisis reporting is made even more transparent with an open platform developed by Ushahidi.  Ushahidi (meaning “testimony” in Swahili) was first developed to report on violence during the 2008 Kenyan election, using a collaborative base of citizen journalists to map crisis information and gather insights.  The platform has also been in used in Gaza and Congo.

Here, you can see the Madagascar-specific site, where citizens can check the Google Maps mashup to learn where crises are occurring (and have occurred previously).  They can also view a listing of all reports, submit their own (via internet or mobile) and receive SMS alerts on their mobiles about any developments in their locality. 

ushahidi

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Bringing transparency to your browser: Knowmore.org

(Originally written and posted at www.wikinomics.com)

To hold major corporations accountable for their actions, citizens need to vote with their dollars.  Rewarding companies for corporate social responsibility and punishing those who partake in unethical practices is crucial in shaping corporate behaviour.  Yet this is difficult to do.  For social activists who gather the information, broadcasting it can be a major challenge.

While information is available, you generally have to search for it.  Admittedly, while I care a great deal about ethical corporate behaviour, I simply don’t have the time to research the companies that produce all of the goods and services I pay for.  I suspect that many consumers would be interested in more accessible information regarding corporate behaviour, but are limited by this same constraint.

Slowly, information is becoming available about products attached to “good” practices, as we’ve seen with fair trade labelling organizations.  But what about labelling the “bad” products?  Producers aren’t going to do this, nor will retailers.

This is where Knowmore.org can play a role.  Dedicated to revealing unethical business practices, Knowmore has 2 main features.  First, the site is based on a wiki, where registered editors (anyone can become one) are encouraged to build on their library of companies and edit the company wikis.  The five key issues are worker’s rights, human rights, environmental concerns, political influence and business ethics.

The more innovative feature, however, is the Firefox add-on that brings all of this information to your browser when you visit a company’s website or search for them on Google.

knowmoreorg

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The best web developments as I remember them

I thought I’d shoot out a post about the best online discoveries I’ve ever made in my life. Mostly, to prove a point about Twitter. Also, I thought it would be fun to hear other people make/debate over their own lifetime internet top tens.

Counting down, here goes:

#10: My first email account: Around grade 7, maybe? It was pretty cool, but I don’t remember using it much at first. More of a gradual transition towards having an impact on my life, so it doesn’t rank too high on this list. You’re going to realize there’s flawed logic here when you read #1. I’m doing this based on how big a deal these developments were at the time I found them

#9 – Playing Command and Conquer over Dial-up: I think I was in grade 6 when I first started this. At first it was just with my friend Andrew, although eventually I played with about 3 or 4 other people. At the time, this was a lot of fun, but I never really continued on as a gamer (I don’t really play anything now), so that’s why it only falls at #9. I’m sure for some people, this type of development is a top-three for sure.

#8 – A few years ago, I realized that online news websites were making physical newspapers obsolete (although feel free to argue this). At first, it was actual newspapers, like globeandmail.com, or the Economist online, stuff like that. Soon I moved on to Slate.com, Huffington Post, etc. This was pretty cool, as it made my reading a lot easier, but it falls a bit short on my list because I don’t remember it substantially changing my life, just making it cheaper.

#7- MP3.com/Other sites like it (late 1990’s): I was in grade 7 or 8 when someone first showed me that bands were uploading their songs onto this website, for free. I soon started finding other, similar sites where I could download free singles. This was my first experience with free content, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to pay for music. Pretty big deal.

#6 – When I started using Torrents to download movies/TV shows: Kinda tied in to #7, same justification applies. Totally awesome though.

#5 – Facebook: Now we’re into the category of “really big deals/fundamental life changers”, except that I think facebook is overhyped. It’s obviously a huge deal, everyone has it, yadda yadda yadda, but I mostly use it for email. I add people I don’t remember, creep on their pictures, then never look at their profile again. I guess this has to do with the fact that I’m not a big photo guy. That said, social networking is getting more and more relevant (see: LinkedIn, which I’ll probably be using a heck of a lot more down the road). So this category might be one that grows in significance for me down the line.

#4 – Online Journals/Never going to the library in Undergrad: Okay, so loading online journals to free portals is nothing groundbreaking. But for 4 years I never, ever, once looked up a hardcopy journal. I barely used books. This rises to #4 because it freed up so much time for all the stuff that college is really about. Thank you, internet.

#3 – Twitter: I’m making a bold statement here. Here it is (although plenty of people have said this before): I think Twitter is going to be really big. When doing research at work, most of my golden finds start with Twitter feeds. Really smart or connected people updating with new links a few times a day? I’m just following their trails, stealing IP like fuckin’ train robbery. And they’re inviting me to do this. I honestly check Twitter multiple times a day, and every time I do, I find several useful things that I could write about. Follow the right people, and Twitter will make you a genious. You walk around telling everyone about stuff as soon as it happens, like you’re some sort of psychic. I can’t wait until this reaches critical mass, I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

#2 – Napster: I was in grade 9 when a friend first showed me this, and I was obviously blown away. This has to be #2, since it’s the grandaddy of so much that we take for granted. Huge props to the guy that got sued and who’s name we’ve all forgotten. By the way, the founder of Napster, Shawn Fanning – here’s what he’s up to these days. From what I can tell he’s a millionaire, but I feel like he deserves to be a more-millions-aire. Hats off to you, Shawn.

#1 ICQ – Instant messaging, how we all keep in touch. I don’t think I need to explain in detail how this made #1 – in a nutshell, I used it constantly when I first got it, and it was how I spoke to everyone in high school. Huge deal for a 13 year old. Also, I’ve been using MSN for 10 years or so (and now use AIM at work), but ICQ gets the props on this list because it was the first IM I ever had.

Strip of Yonge Street to become a “digital destination”

(Originally written and posted at www.wikinomics.com)

Reading the Toronto Star today, I came across this article that shows some much-needed forward thought from the Canadian university community.  In short, Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo have agreed to a joint initiative to create a “Canadian Silicon Valley” over the next few years.  If all goes as planned, the strip of Yonge Street from Gould St. to Gerrard St. will be “a corridor of i-research and high-end digital stores all in one cluster that hums with activity.”  In the image below, I highlighted this area in Google Maps:  The proposed corridor would be a 200 metre stretch (from point A to B) located right downtown, conveniently situated between Ryerson and U of T.

digital-corridor1

As they note in the article, Southern Ontario has had its share of very successful companies in the creation of new technology tools, such as Waterloo’s own Research In Motion.  Now, it seems that top-level leadership is waking up to the massive growth potential that exists in getting people and companies to actually use all of the newly-available tools, something we’re constantly pushing here at nGenera.

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