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Archive for December, 2010

It’s fun, and a strong blogging tradition, to look back over year just gone and create “best-of” lists. So here’s absolutely the definitive list of the best music, books and films from the year.

Just kidding, it’s just a random list of my favourite stuff of the past year, conjured by my imperfect memory and no-doubt riddled with omissions, but filled with gems regardless, promise!

Best Music (I discovered this year):

Tijuana Cartel

A great band from Australia’s Gold Coast introduced to me by a friend who stayed with us earlier in the year. alternative/electronic/hip hop/flamenco. Unique and awesome.

Jhameel

An incredibly-talented kid from Berkely whose first album “The Human Condition” will be released next month. We found him a couple of months ago via a friend and he’s been on high-rotation ever since. His sound is… um… pop-orchestral soul?

You can choose what you want to pay to download the album pre-release.

Jonsi

The ex-lead singer of Sigur Ros released his first solo album this year – “Go” – and it’s wonderful. As ethereal and soaring and gorgeous as you would imagine.

Shpongle

I adore Shpongle, so no surprise I think their latest album “Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongeland” is another classic.


Ulrich Schnauss

This album isn’t from 2010, or even close. A Strangely Isolated Place (which the track below is on) is from 2003, and Far Away Trains Passing By came out in 2001, but I only discovered them by chance this year and regret the years I was unaware of this gorgeous ambient music.

Best Books (I read this year):

The Tall Man – Death and Life on Palm Island – by Chloe Hooper

Absolutely my book of the year and genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever read, The Tall Man – Death and Life on Palm Island is the story of an Aboriginal death in police custody in 2004 and a searing portrait of white/indigenous relations. Should be required reading for all Australians.

Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard – by Dan Heath and Chip Heath

The follow up the Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath have done it again with Switch. It’s both an inspiring call to action and a practical hand-book for creating change in your life, community or world. Switch is written with the journalistic flair and storytelling style of Malcolm Gladwell but rather than describing a phenomenon it extracts lessons and teaches you how to do it too.

The Eternal Frontier – An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples – By Tim Flannery

America is a very big, very diverse and very beautiful country. After we drove from DC-SF in June I wanted to know more about how it got to be the way it was, so read Flannery’s riveting account of North America’s evolution over the past 65 million years. Ever since I have been able to impress friends with insights on how the Sequoia’s survived the asteroid impact, why most of the world’s edible nuts are from North America and how horses evolved here. Americans – if you want to understand the continent you are standing on, read this book.

Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age – by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is the internet whisperer. He brings together diverse trends and disparate information and weaves them all together to reveal a deeper and more nuanced picture of the world social technologies are creating. Like his previous book Here Comes Everybody it is the most insightful thing I’ve read on the subject, aimed not at illuminating some business strategy or risk as so many books on the internet are but instead designed to reveal how these technologies are changing our cultures, societies and, ultimately, us.

Rand McNally Road Atlas

We set off from DC with two smartphones, an iPad and a GPS. They weren’t nearly enough. With coverage in the middle of the country incredibly patchy and the GPS being useless for choosing long-distance routes on day 3 we bought a proper countrywide map, the kind you spread on your lap in the passenger seat (or “navigation station” is it became known) and get an overview of your next three days of driving and imagine alternative ways of getting there. So much more fun this way too.

Best Films (I saw this year):

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy’s first film and, like much of his art, it’s edgy, unique and a lot of fun. It combines incredible footage of now-famous street artists like Space Invader and Shepard Fairey with a is-this-real-or-not portrayal of the arts industry they (and he) have created.

Milk

A wonderful and bitter-sweet biopic of the short-lived but groundbreaking political career of Harvey Milk. And we live just a few blocks from where it all happened!

Howl

One-third Alan Ginsberg biopic, one-third the courtroom drama of the Howl obscenity trial, and one-third a psychedelic animated reading of Howl, Ginsberg’s most famous poem. 100% great.

Avatar 3D

A genuine technical triumph. Just a great cinema experience.

Best Websites (I used for the first time this year):

Posterous

I’m really enjoying keeping my alternative, shorter, “bits and bytes” blog over on Posterious. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

Quora

A super-intelligent question-and-answer site. So much wisdom so freely shared.

About.me

I’ve been looking for a homepage like this for a while.

Best Software (I used for the first time this year):

Rapportive

Integrates social media with gmail, a really powerful tool for building business relationships.

Focused

What I’m using to draft this post. The opposite of Rapportive in a way – it blocks out all the noise on your screen (social media notifications, tabs, various programs), giving you just a plain black box to type in. It’s helped me become much more productive when I write.

That’s more than enough, I hope you either had or are about to have (depending on where you are in the world) a fun and fabulous New Years Eve and that 2011 has amazing things in store for you.

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As I wrote recently, Burning Man is Festival 2.0. It is a user-generated community, built on the respect and responsibility of its citizens, a place where people are participants, not consumers.

The event and indeed the entire culture is based on ten principles, one of which is “leaving no trace”. This practice of leaving no trace creates a radically different consciousness than you see at other festivals. There is little-to-no trash anywhere on the ground as the community takes responsibility not only for our own trash but for each-others, picking up any pieces of MOOP (Material Out Of Place) we see. Camps build evaporation ponds to deal with their gray water and ship out all their own food scraps and recycling. Successfully leaving no trace requires more than the right consciousness, it requires intent, in the form of pre-planning, and responsibility in the form of follow-through.

This responsibility is most apparent at the camp level. The Black Rock Organization recently published the MOOP Map of Burning Man 2010, seen above. I am pleased to report that our camp, More Carrot, was given a green grade, the best possible, indicating low to no impact trace. Not that this was exceptional: as you can see the vast majority of the city is green, with only scattered patches of orange (moderate impact trace) and red (high impact trace). This is what a community looks like: people taking responsibility for themselves and taking care for each other and their environment. It’s one of the things that inspires me to participate in Burning Man.

Looking back over the past four MOOP maps it is clear that things are getting progressively better, with fewer and fewer camps leaving any noticable trace. As you can see this improvement was especially dramatic from the 2006 to 2007 event (click to see full size):

What changed between 2006 to 2007? The MOOP Map was published for the first time .

There’s a really important lesson in this: accountability resting on transparency made the difference. Despite all the power of the Burning Man culture an unacceptable amount of MOOP remained. Then, suddenly, this culture was reinforced with publically-available information detailing how the different camps and neighourhoods of the city were performing against the Leave No Trace goal. And immediately this public accountability produced a huge leap forward in the trash situation as camps worked harder than ever to avoid an orange or red grade.

Transparency reinforced existing community norms both by making deviance from this norm visible and thus additionally unacceptable and signaling to those doing the right thing that their efforts were appreciated. It felt good to see our camp covered in Green when the map was released. It feels good to be part of something that inspires and aggregates individual contributions towards a community goal in this way.

The question is how can we create this level of personal responsibility and community consciousness in all our communities? What sort of transparency is required to support this?

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Cartoon by Rob Cot­tingham

Over the past couple of weeks two interesting and inter-related controversies have sprung up which reveal in stark terms Apple’s lack of support for non-profits and values as a corporate citizen.

Beth Kanter, the nonprofit web guru, started drawing attention a couple of weeks ago to the iPhone’s lack of support for donation apps.The essense of the issue is that apps cannot process donations natively. The best they can do is link to a charities website for people to make donations. This is clearly a more complicated process and we know that every addition step required to make a donation loses a significant proportion of your potential donors.

Apple’s apparent reason for the ban (another example of Apple’s restrictive approach to the universe of apps that runs on their devices) is the difficulty involved in verifying genuine charities. Jake Shapiro pointed out back in June that ‘the excuse that “Apple doesn’t want to be held responsible for ensuring that the charitable funds make it to the final destination” is a cop-out. Google Grants has tackled this already, and organizations like TechSoup and Guidestar do a sophisticated job of authenticating nonprofits and charities worldwide. Apple, of all companies, can’t credibly say it’s not up to the technical and logistical challenge.’

Following the earthquake in Haiti Apple itself requested donations through an iPhone app, raising hopes of a change of policy which has not been forthcoming. Earlier this year Paypal introduced the option to make a charitable donation through their iPhone app, with verification handled by an outside company MissionFish. Two months later they were forced by Apple to shut it down.  One possible issue may be that Apple takes 30% of revenue from the app store, an proportion way beyond what is considered acceptable for donation processing.

This is all pretty annoying in its own right, and you should certainly support the petition currently being run on Care2 asking Apple to rescind this policy, but just how galling it is was brought home to me by another news item last week.

A group of parents are crying foul after being hit with unexpected bills from their children playing games on the iPhone and iPad. The games, such as Smurf Village, are clearly designed for kids, allow you to skip over the hardest stages of the game by purchasing, for real money, in-game items such as Smurfberries. It is even possible to purchase a whopping $59.99 worth of Smurfberries in just two clicks. Other kids games sells virtual items for up to $100. One reason for this is that you only need to log into your iTunes account every 15 minutes to make purchases. So if a parent buys this game then immediately hands the device to their child  there’s a window in which new purchases can be made without any need to re-enter account information. However several parents are reporting that they carefully waited for the required amount of time before allowing their child to play and still ended up with a nasty surprise when they saw their bill.

So on the one hand we have a situation where it’s impermissible to make an in-application donation to a nonprofit organization doing good in the world, while on the other it’s so easy to spend money inside an application that it’s literally child’s play. There’s no possible justification for this hypocrisy, and continues a trend of Apple disregarding the nonprofit sector. When I approach Apple for sponsorship when running Vibewire about five years ago I was told that Apple had a corporate policy of not supporting nonprofits or making any donations. Their job was the maximize profits, and shareholders could decide how to disburse those profits. So perfect right-wing corporatism in other words. And, indeed, they have been named one of America’s least philanthropic companies.

To me this issue shows without any doubt Apple’s true corporate culture. To the extent that they have involved themselves with nonprofits or made positive moves like decreasing the environmental impact of their devices, this can only be seen as cause marketing, something they felt they needed to do for their brand and sales, not something driven by a belief that business has any role beyond profit maximisation.

They sure do make pretty things though.

Sign the petition asking Apple to allow donations within their apps.

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Цвета музыки (Colours of Muzik)

I have a confession to make. I’m a crowdfunding addict. Or as I think of these emerging platforms: peer-funding. For the first time projects can be funded by those who share the passion and vision of the creator. In other words, not the anonymous crowd, but your global peers getting together and saying “let’s make this happen”. That’s new, powerful and very cool.

Peerfunding (or crowdfunding, if we must) is the facilitation of numerous small contributions to fund specific, time-limited, projects. Crowdfunding is an offshoot of crowdsourcing, the buzz term from a couple of years ago that gave us talent-mobilizing sites such as GeniusRocket for creative and InnoCentive for scientific problem-solving, outsourcing these functions to the crowd. But this new breed of sites are different, and not just because they are asking for money instead of logo designs or film concepts. Crowdsourcing is focused on producing a unique high-quality contribution (be it logo or film or chemical breakthrough), harvested from the crowd, these new funding platforms work cumulatively. Just as Barack Obama proved the power of small dollar fundraising in the political world we are now seeing the power of small dollar philanthropy in new sectors, especially the arts.

This model first caught my attention in the lead-up to this year’s Burning Man, as numerous arts collective raised funds for their projects on Kickstarter. It was really exciting to see some of the amazing things in development and to be able to support in my own modest way a couple of projects I thought were most exciting. And I’ll admit it, I did it for the perks too, including the promise of a ride on a very cool artcar (which I never took them up on sadly).

The focus on perks is another unique feature of this model of these new platforms. Across all the leading sites it is required that projects articulate “perks” for their funders. And I don’t mean the usual “feel good about yourself” perks, I mean “give me something cool” perks. This works perfectly for many creative projects that are object-oriented – if it’s a zine or book you can receive it (signed!), if a film you get a dvd or a credit, if an exhibition or catelogue a print. Digital projects tend towards the thank-you pages and downloads of code (woot). At the higher amounts everyone has to get more creative: dinner with the artist; consulting; an event at your house; an award in your honour.

It’s all fun stuff, and it beautifully fuses the line between philanthropy and straight-up shopping. I have always enjoyed purchasing hand-made zines, now I simply pre-buy them and in so doing give the creator the confidence and funds to make it. I enjoy film, and spend money on a Netflix subscription, so why not actually chip in to see documentaries on issues I think are interesting or important made? Some of the projects on Kickstarter in particular have blown out their fundraising targets by seemingly-absurd amounts, raising 1000%+ of their goal, but this is usually really just an unexpected run on a groovy new product. Being quasi-philanthropy and quasi-shopping simultaneously attracts more supporters than either approach alone would engender.

Over the past few months I have supported the publication of zines both micro-micro and merely niche via Kickstarter, production of a documentary on avant-guarde culture in Jerusalem via IndieGoGo, a series of social change posters via LoudSauce and the relaunch of a much-loved independent media website via the Australian FundBreak. There is also Spot.us, which supporters journalistic projects.

These sites are not all the same. Kickstarter and Fundbreak are exclusive to creative projects while IndieGoGo is broader and LoudSauce and Spot.us even narrower, specifically funding public interest advertising campaigns and journalism respectively. All of these sites except for IndieGoGo operate on an “all-or-nothing” model whereby if the project doesn’t raise its target by the deadline they receive none of it, with all contributions returned. This is a perfect fit for creative projects (and advertising campaigns) that have very specific amounts required to produce the project (whether it’s printing costs or tv time) or else it can’t happen at all. There’s a necessary tipping point. If it project doesn’t raise the necessary funds then the commitments are returned and its no-hard-feelings. It gives a security to contributors that the project will really happen or their money back and for creatives it reassures them that if necessary funds aren’t raised they’re not on the hook to those who have contributed thus far.

Not all types of projects have this tipping point and currently only IndieGoGo caters to them with a keep-what-you-raise system. This can create another, also important, sort of confidence, that those supporters people have been able to mobilize will see their support realized and delivered.

The biggest gap I see in the peerfunding space currently, in addition to having several valuable niches currently unserved, is that they are all based around one-off projects. There’s nowhere where you can create a stable profile for an organization or enterprise and then fundraise for specific projects over time – building a community across these projects and deepening your engagement with these supporters. I’ll have more to say about this soon.

Have you contributed to any projects on a peerfunding platform? What do you think is working and how could it be better?

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Capital Bikeshare station in Columbia Heights

I left Washington DC in June and was amazed on a visit back this weekend how much seemed to have changed in the urban environment in this short time. The biggest change I’m thrilled about is the launch of a new shared bike scheme – Capital Bikeshare – already now the biggest in the USA.

A previous scheme, Smartbike DC, has been operating since 2008 but never caught on. It’s network of a mere 10 locations was woefully insufficient to constitute a new form of transport and they required you to join online first, for a flat fee of $40, before you could use a bike. Compare this to Capital Bikeshare’s 1100 bikes at 110 stations stretching from Columbia Heights down to the Mall, East as far as Eastern Market and West into Northern Virgina. It’s a dense-enough network to use the bikes as genuine public transport – you can feel secure that there will be a parking station sufficiently close to where you are going.

One person I spoke to over the weekend wasn’t confident the new scheme would catch on any more than the last one did, opining that those who liked riding already had bikes in most cases. But I think this is no different to the co-existence of private car usage and taxi cabs. As a bike owner and daily commuter I can imagine many scenarios where I might not want the hassle of keeping track of my bike, or only need to go one way, or am transferring to a car, where a shared bike scheme provides the perfect compliment to my private bike ownership.

I rode bikes three times last Thursday getting from one meeting to another and it was wonderful. Cheap ($5 for a day membership, $25/month, $75/year, with use of the bikes free for journey’s under 30 minutes), easy (30 seconds and I was joined and away) and fun. And useful! Much more efficient for piecing together my destinations than trains or buses would have been. For a visitor it’s a wonderful way to get around.

Combined with this DC has expanded their bikes lanes, already the best I’ve seen anywhere in the US. There are dedicated bike lanes every few streets, making it easy to get within a block or two of anywhere you want to go without dodging traffic. Some of these lanes are sectioned off from traffic by bollards, or have a lane of parked cars between bikes and traffic, making them extremely safe for cyclists.

Very impressive, DC. Combined with new light rail lines and the expansion of the Metro out to Dulles airport the District is evolving into one of the most walkable and least car-dependent cities in the country.

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K overlooking Luang Prabang, Laos

As part of my participation in the zooGooder fundraising challenge December 2-9, for which I’m supporting Global Lives Project (find out more), I wanted to share why I’m so passionate about travel and why I think Global Lives Project shares some of the important insights of travel to those who may not have the chance otherwise. But rather than just having me blather on and on about travel I thought it’d be much more fun to hear from all of you as well!

So, a little fun: Please join me in sharing what travel has taught you using the #travelteaches hashtag on Twitter. Travel is such a powerful experience which I have personally taken so much from, and I know it’s meant a lot to many of you also. I’d love to hear your stories and perspectives. So let’s see if we can get a good conversation going and encourage others to use the hashtag and join in as well.

If you’re not a Twitter user please leave a comment here instead!

I’ll collate all tweets and comments in this post, so hopefully it will grow over the course of the week. Or I’ll just be quoting myself, we’ll see! 🙂

Space permitting please link to this page using http://bit.ly/trvlteach.

Find out more about my Global Lives Project fundraiser.

#TravelTeaches:

@gunyahtravel: Not to immediately think every taxi driver is a crook going to overcharge you! Life lesson; book, cover, judge.

@philosert: #travelteaches tolerance.

@lyrianfleming: #travelteaches me that rice is for breakfast, the pyramids r not lego, smiles r universal, personal space is subjective, & camels are smelly

@lyrianfleming: #travelteaches me to love – the call to prayer, the chiming of church bells, the symbols in a synagogue, the eternity in a prayer wheel

@tomjd: #travelteaches me to be slow and still, to allow wisdom to emerge at its own pace. I find this only happens out of the city.

@noboundariesorg: The world is safer, friendlier, more inexpensive and more welcoming than most people are lead to believe.

@tomjd: #travelteaches me that there are many paths to the same destination, that there’s no “right” way of doing things.

@BonnieKoenig: With eyes & ears wide open, travel always introduces new perspectives & ways of viewing the world.

@memeshift (shared in comments): Traveling brings you presence. When traveling about, switching your cultural operating systems between the different spaces you inhabit as you merge, blend, depart and float can do a lot as you get acclimated to the different senses of time, speed and cultural nuances in each inhabitation. It shifts and frees your perception of things to not be so attached to particular ways of life, however pleasurable or not.

BonnieKoenig (in comments): Every trip I’ve taken to another country, no matter how short or long, has opened my eyes to a different perspective that I had not thought about before. It can come from observing people, reading a local paper or hearing a radio report, or more in depth conversations or experiences. It’s a cliche, but true, that nothing else can really replace the learning experience that travel affords. Of course, one gets back what one puts in, and honing one’s observations and listening skills and being open to new learning is important.

@GeoffLiving: Travel teaches me the broadness of the universe, how amazing it is, and what a small role I have in it.

@EdwardHarran: Travel teaches me how to find extraordinary in the ordinary, it helps me embrace chaos and stay present wherever I might be.

@amvandenhurk: how we are all interconnected.

@c_rawlins: #travelteaches the many different definitions of happiness that exist, and how few of them relate to possessions.

@vibewire: #travelteaches a different perspective, a new view to admire.

@noboundariesorg: Cultural and language differences aside, we are all much more similar than we’re led to believe.

@k8alexandra: #travelteaches me that we are all different and all the same. It also taught me that Lao people make the most amazing Indian food.

@sarahjansencom: #travelteaches there are as many versions of ‘normal’ as there are people on the earth.

Alex Budak (in comments): If I had to find one common lesson from my travels it’s that we are all so much similar than we are dissimilar. From a farmer I met in rural India to an Icelandic fisherman, after speaking with them I realized that there is so much more that connects us than separates us. While that may seem obvious to those that have traveled, before I left home and explored I would have certainly thought the opposite. It’s also taught me to be humble, ask questions (lest I experience another fiasco like trying to figure out German washing machines), and learn from everyone I meet!

Alice (via Facebook): There’s not really any such thing as ‘translation’: Another language is not another way of saying the same thing – it’s a different way of thinking.

Marian (via Facebook): Everyone loves a good laugh, women work HARD, everyone has to deal with the same shit, how to hold onto my pee for a really long time, there is a lot of plastic lying around, there are hidden deep corners of our world where nature rules and maybe we shouldn’t go there.

Matt (via Facebook): People are cool and we should just get along.

Awesome stuff, thanks so much everyone who participated!

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Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are good times for taking stock and thinking about the things we have to be grateful for. For me this means thinking about my global tribe and how lucky I am to have you all in my life. Thinking about this made me realize, once more, how important travel has always been for me, for the relationships I’ve gained and the experience of other cultures and the global perspective that grows from this.

I sincerely wish everyone could have the opportunity to travel and, in the absence of that, I support anything that opens up a window on the world and gets people thinking more globally.

At this time of year I know everyone gets hit with endless requests for support and, yes, I’m putting one out also. I wrote previously about my involvement with Razoo.com’s zooGooder council and how impressed I’ve been with Global Lives Project since coming across them after moving to San Francisco. Over the coming week the members of the zooGooder council are having a friendly competition to see who can raise the most funds and attract the most donors for their favourite nonprofit. Naturally I’ve chosen Global Lives Project.

Here’s my video explaining why:

(Aside: My first video blog! Kinda scary! What do you think?)

Razoo have generously made available a $2000 prize pool for the person who brings in the most donors and with your help I’d love to be competitive in win! this category. Every donation, however modest, counts as a point towards this prize. In addition I’m also a fundraiser for Global Lives Project’s own group fundraising challenge this month. As part of the launch of this new service Razoo will match the first $200 I raise. What’s more Global Lives Project has a matching grant of up to $30,000 if raised before the end of the year.

Follow all of that? This means any money you donate could be matched up to THREE TIMES! That’s a pretty good return on your investment.

More to the point, whatever money we raise will support Global Lives Project to expand their activities next year – holding new exhibitions and developing educational materials for use by school groups. These videos undoubtedly have artistic merit but it’s this educational element I’m most excited about as I think facilitated contact with this content could really get people thinking in new ways, more globally and empathically. In other words, sharing with those who might not have the chance to travel some of the most important benefits we get from the travel experience.

As little as $10 counts towards the most donors challenge and would mean so much to both Global Lives Project and me. If I can raise $1,000 this week I will be stoked, and we will know we’ve made a real difference to this small but important organization.

But I know not everyone has even $10 to spare so there are other ways you can help as well:

•    Tell your friends! Use the share buttons at the bottom of this post to share the link on Twitter, Facebook ,etc.
•    Share your story! All this week I’ll be sharing things travel has given me using the hashtag #travelteaches. Join in! Share your own #travelteaches insight on Twitter and, space permitting, link to http://bit.ly/trvlteach where I’ll be collecting the responses.

Of course, please donate if you can:

I can’t wait to hear your stories! Thank you for your support.

More on Global Lives Project:

Artist’s statement from GLP’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Exhibit:

Framed by the arc of the day and conveyed through the intimacy of video, we have slowly and faithfully captured 24 continuous hours in the lives of 10 people from around the world. They are screened here in their own right, but also in relation to one another.

There is no narrative other than that which is found in the composition of everyday life, no overt interpretations other than that which you may bring to it.

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