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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ave Christchurch

I've made a new year's resolution to stick to a stricter schedule with this blog in the future, and that means an entry is due today - but at the moment my thoughts, and I am sure everyone else's in New Zealand, go out to the people in Christchurch.

Gone are the days when most of us would be blissfully ignorant of the day's events until after dinner, when it was time to watch the tv news. The first I heard about the earthquake was via a friend on Facebook, about an hour after it struck. He'd been following the news, and he was posting links as the news came in.

Within the space of perhaps another hour, pretty much everyone I know on Facebook who lives in New Zealand - and quite a few people abroad - were aware of the disaster that had struck, and had posted something, thoughts, good vibes, or hard news.

More importantly, messages were being passed on - such as Vodaphone's nationwide appeal to please stay off the mobile networks, so that emergency calls could get through. And not just to organize help and support - at the time, there were people trapped under rubble, and some of them had phones on them. A good priority.

I then jumped on Twitter, and punched "Christchurch earthquake" in the search field. The tweets I found included links to a people finder tool set up by Google at short notice: - incidentally, very much in the spirit of keeping worried friends and relatives off the mobile networks. The count of records they are tracking has gone up from 1600 approximately an hour ago, to 2500 at the time I am writing this paraqraph, to 3400 by the time I am finished with this blog post.

The University of Colorado, of all places, chimed in with a crowd-sourced map of earthquake damage, enabling people to check which parts of town were the most affected, and to post their own observations: - well, at least if they can work out how it works.

I would like to point out that this has been by no means an in-depth search: the Facebook messages came to my attention in the course of my habitual casual internet browsing while doing work on my computer, and looking up the links on the Twitter feed took all of five minutes. ‎

The message Vodaphone has been posting, to request people to stay off the mobile networks, read like this: "Vodafone is requesting no non-essential calls across the whole country - pass it on".

"Pass it on" - three magic words. All this cutting edge modern technology, and it's back to the oldest news spreading mechanism in the world: One person who tells some others, who tell some others, who tell some others. And it's still by far the fastest and most efficient way to spread a piece of news.

I remember well the time, 1985, the big earthquake in Mexico City. My father had been posted on a work stint to Queretaro, ca 200 km north of Mexico City. I remember the date so well, because it was the very week I was writing my final examinations to finish high school. The tv news, in their usual sensationalist way, made it look like not just Mexico City, but half the country was affected, but without being very precise about what exactly where exactly. Phone lines were down due to the damage, and for a week we couldn't get through. There was an information phone number broadcast on the tv news - but when that wasn't overloaded, the info they could give you wasn't very helpful. Eventually, my father made one of his routine calls home. It had never occurred to him that we might be worried sick, because in Queretaro, they'd hardly felt the quake at all.

I remember well the time, September 2001. I was two weeks into a six week internship at ZDF, one of the two public tv stations in Germany. The editorial staff of the programme I was working on was assembled for their weekly meeting, when one of our colleagues burst in to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. "Stupid sports plane accident" was the first thought ... then we stood and watched, in real time, as the Twin Towers collapsed and Manhattan disappeared under a thick cloud of dust, leaving everyone in suspense, throughout that whole long afternoon, just how much worse was to come. I remember, most vividly, taking the subway train home that evening, looking at the faces of my fellow passengers and thinking "They don't know yet". Thinking, they'll go home and have dinner and switch on the tv news, and find out that someone has just declared war on the United States of America, and we don't even know who it is.

Though that wasn't quite doing the tv news justice. They were perfectly sure who it was, perhaps an hour after the first White House spokesperson had tentatively mentioned the possibility of Al Qaeda being behind the attack, and well before there had been the remotest chance for anyone to find any actual evidence, let alone analyze it. That I also remember very well, and this is when I stopped watching tv news.

These days, I get my news on the internet. And by that I don't mean online media channels or magazines, or even political blogs. Mostly, I rely on Facebook. If something is so important and earth-shattering that I need to know about it, someone in my online network will be talking about it. Then is the time to do a Google search or jump on Twitter, to find more information. Or I might know someone who lives close by, and might have some more first hand information than what trickles down through the traditional mass media.

What is the point in knowing how many people have died gruesome deaths in the latest war or plane crash or natural disaster, if there is nothing you can do to influence the situation? That's just sensationalist voyeurism and an unhealthy fascination with the gruesome, if you as me. Not to mention a good livelihood for a whole professional caste of media people.

Most of us, most of the time, think of the internet mainly as a tool to promote ourselves - our businesses, our professional expertise, our artwork and music, our ideas and worldview, or even just how cool we look with that new haircut, or what a great time we had on that last holiday. But at times like these, it becomes apparent that the internet can be far more than that.

Passing on information, Tweeter to Tweeter and Facebook friend to Facebook friend, about where to find information about family and friends in an earthquake zone, or where to direct yourself for food and shelter, or finding beds for passengers stuck in an airport unable to travel on to their intended destination, or staying off the mobile networks so that people trapped under rubble can get through with their calls - that on the other hand, might quite literally save lives.

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Year, New Projects

A Happy New Year to all my cherished readers! I hope 2011 finds you all happy and healthy, and your businesses going the way you want them to go.

I am fortunate to be able to put a tick on all three points. After a nice long summer break - during which there was no blog! - I am now back in the office and ready to tackle whatever the new year may throw at me.

So far, it's been all good. I had a nice long break - not so much lazing in the sun, though there was a bit of that as well, but mostly working on a few things whose benefit is likely to be more long-term than immediate.

I have had time to work on improving my programming skills, both in PHP - which I have come to LOVE - and in Flash Actionscript. I am now able to offer customized content management systems even for my smaller sites, and already have the first two clients queueing up for it.

I have also been able to do some work on my own web page - music streaming is now available, though there are still a couple of issues with the new Flash play buttons: so far, you need to manually stop the previous track before you listen to a new one, otherwise there will be a cacophony of simultaneous tunes. This is obviously no good, and I am working on the issue. I think even so, it is a lot more elegant than it was before! Bearing in mind that this is a work in progress, you are welcome to have a look and a listen here.

This month, there has been a steady flow of smaller projects - mainly updates and site improvements for previous clients. It looks like once someone has got a site, they want more! I assume this means that their sites are really working for my clients.

One interesting new project I am involved in is more consultation than design work: I have been setting up a Facebook page for 50 plus Travel - a business based in Upper Hutt which offers escorted tours to Russia, Central Europe, the Ukraine, Vietnam and China for singles and couples of the older generation. Anna Jones, the business owner, emigrated to New Zealand from Russia half a lifetime ago, and I can't think of a more fun, or expert person to organize your travel and introduce you to the local culture. Do follow her on Facebook if you want to find out more!

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::