Sunday, October 27, 2013

A New Era in Disaster Relief

Harvard Gazette

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recently released a report on the potential for technology to advance humanitarian disaster response. The report features several case studies, such as Chicago doctor Zaher Sahloul, who used social media to organize more than $5 million in medical supplies and donations to Syria. Sahloul also used YouTube to provide medical advice videos to doctors in Syria, and worked with Internet systems engineer Dishad Othman to find secure ways for people in Syria to communicate online. The report notes that technological tools also can raise the effectiveness of early warning systems. For example, the Red Cross has prioritized the use of social media to communicate during disasters, and has trained volunteers to communicate with the public via social media. However, as humanitarian groups increase their use of technology, they must be wary of responding only to those with the technology who ask for help, because populations that cannot afford devices such as cell phones are usually at the highest risk in a disaster. Neutrality toward military issues also is important as humanitarian groups turn to technology, because armed forces will have access to these groups' communications.



11 Ways Big Companies Undermine Innovation


In centuries past, explorers searched for the legendary city of El Dorado, where everything was made of gold. Today, at large organizations, innovation is the new El Dorado. Consultants and keynote speakers all purport to provide maps to it. Chief executives and business unit leaders weave the word innovation into their PowerPoints, hoping it will magically yield better product ideas, or miraculous improvements to existing processes.

·        No definition or metrics for what success means.

·        It must be instantly apparent and quantifiably demonstrable how every new idea has billion-dollar potential, or 18-month return-on-investment.

·        Seeking more influence and power, the company’s Chief Information Officer has altered his title, becoming Chief Innovation Officer.

·        The innovation team is considered “the CEO’s thing,” disconnected from business units and their most pressing concerns.

·        Innovation is expected to happen in cubicles and around conference tables.

·        Ideas don’t gain momentum if they’re seen as potentially competing with existing products or services, or threatening today’s business relationships.

·        The paradox of proximity.

·        Fear of releasing “alpha” or test versions of new products and services to get early market feedback.

·        Every good idea is expected to spring from the hermetically-sealed world of the corporation.

·        Company culture doesn’t tolerate — or understand how to learn from — failure.

·        Lack of commitment.


In Defense of Play


Play isn't just for kicks anymore. Or kids, for that matter. If you're keen for proof, take a run at the giant slide in the Toronto's Corus Headquarters. Better yet, look at large glass-topped conference table resting on bicycles at Saatchi Saatchi, an advertising firm that regularly integrates whimsy in the workplace.


Important stories? We think so. For over a decade, we've been testing how to use play in the least unplayful places -- working with government bureaucrats, refugees, social entrepreneurs -- to address complicated and messy issues. Last year, Zahra's design class at Ontario College of Art and Deisgn (OCAD) carried their chairs three blocks to Toronto City Hall and initiated a game of musical chairs with passer-bys -- an activity that inevitably led to dialogue about community and public space. With Canadian Federal ministry, she's facilitated a workshop to illuminate the role of play within bureaucracy; back in Toronto, she's engaged social entrepreneurs with alternative ways of brainstorming through play. Over in Kenya, Mary regularly leads play activities with post-graduate university students to explore how to design schools and learning spaces in refugee camps and communities affected by war, conflict, and natural disasters.


Everyone loves to play.


Knowledge Marketplaces and the Gamification of Education

We’re reading more and more about online education portals incorporating sophisticated game mechanics into its applications. There’s no doubt that education is a space ripe for gamification and in classrooms—both virtual and walled—educators are shifting their approach to offer a more personalized, yet interactive and adaptive curriculum. Course Hero, an online education start-up, has been engaging college students in its online learning community by using game mechanics from Bunchball for more than a year to great success. Harnessing the motivational power of games and applying it to real-world problems, Course Hero’s gamification elements motivate students to learn in a more interactive manner and urge them to care more about what they’re learning.

In this GSummit SF 2013 talk, Course Hero CEO Andrew Grauer will share details on how participation on the site has increased by 25% since implementing gamified elements, as well as how the site has seen a 51% growth in badges awarded since February 2012.


Playing Our Way to Wisdom

Huffington Post

Not only does presence lead to play but play can also lead to presence. In fact, we love to play precisely because it helps us bust out of the prison of our self-conscious egos and let go with abandon into an activity that totally absorbs our attention. In fact, I like to think of play as dynamic meditation. It can have the same effect as 20 minutes on the cushion. Plus, if the play involves physical movement (my personal choice is dancing like a maniac) you get loads of other benefits plus a cocktail of endorphins. Like meditation, after play the world looks brighter, clearer and more delightful.


I'm thrilled to see meditation having its moment (one moment at a time). And I look forward to the day when play is recognized and celebrated for its profound power as a practice of presence.


Pixar’s 22 Rules of StoryTelling

Imgur and Steve Clayton

Former Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted this series of “story basics” in 2011. These were guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories.


#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.  

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.


Software Takes Advantage of Collective Intelligence to Improve Decision-Making

Researchers from the Experimental Economics Laboratory at Universitat Jaume I have developed a software platform for implementing prediction markets and making internal information management and strategic decision-making more efficient. The researchers say their Agora Market platform is the first Spanish software to leverage the collective intelligence of employees and customers to improve decision-making in a company. They note the technology can be used in any business of any economic sector or industry. The tool includes a market maker that provides the necessary liquidity for making public offers of purchase and sale of any prediction at a given point in time and at a specified price by an algorithm or market-scoring rule that enables the continuous calculation of purchase and sale prices. The researchers say the platform offers security and anonymity by dynamically generating pages, and browsers do not record any of the requests sent to the database with a user name. The Windows-based platform uses the JSP, HTML, CSS, Java, and Javascript programming languages.


Technology Mimics the Brushstrokes of Masters

NY Times

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) say they have developed an improved method of creating noise pollution maps that uses crowdsourced smartphone data. Measuring noise pollution in large metropolitan areas on a systematic basis is difficult because noise levels change over relatively short distances and over the course of a day, making the maps time-consuming and costly to create. CSIRO researchers say using smartphone data can simplify this task and make it less expensive. To ensure that readings are only taken outside, the smartphone uses a global positioning system measurement. The phone then determines whether ambient conversations are taking place, and if so, waits until they are done to avoid a skewed reading. In addition, the phone can use built-in sensors such as the proximity sensor and accelerometer to determine whether it is being held in a person's hand, because readings taken from a bag or pocket are inaccurate. If the smartphone meets all of the researchers' criteria, it records an ambient sound level reading, location, and time, which is transmitted to a central server when the phone is in a Wi-Fi zone. The central server uses all of the crowdsourced readings to generate a map, which the researchers say is accurate enough to reconstruct data recorded using conventional sound level meters, even when up to 40 percent of the original data points are missing.


Why Disney Imagineering Might Be The Best Job Ever



What do tobacco and software have in common


Everything from algorithmic trading in investments to lean manufacturing has been invented to drive up corporate profits. Following Gordon Gecko’s mantra, “Greed is good,” one has to wonder, if enterprises have gone through such creative measures to optimize everything and eke out new marginal efficiency, what can a modern company do to boost the bottom line? Look to the top performing net margin industries, of course.

Looking at the Fortune 500, the average net margins across the Fortune 500 were 7.28 percent with a median of 6.75 percent; however, the top two performing industries by net margin in 2011 were tobacco and software, with 21.50 percent and 19.88 percent, respectively. Clearly, tobacco and software maintain a wide gap when compared to these normative measures, and these numbers persisted through 2012.

Can companies in other industries incorporate tobacco or software into their business to boost margins?

Okay, so maybe not tobacco since that industry operates under circumstances (i.e., harmful chemical addictive agents) that can’t be replicated elsewhere. Software, on the other hand, offers an interesting proposition to Fortune 1000 companies looking to disrupt the status quo.

Today, enterprise applications can be written to do or supplement anything. For example, I can write an application to simplify word processing or to control the temperature of my refrigerator. As a result, software has become much more than a feature or means of improving operational efficiency. In fact, software has become the backbone of many non-software businesses, including Diebold, Nike and Tesla to name only a few.



Ideo's David Kelley: How Did I Get Here?

Bloomberg BusinessWeek

The design guru on his contribution to Boeing’s 747, collaborating on the artistic Enorme phone, and other high points of his career.