Friday, November 23, 2007

Sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure

. According to surveys by the National Sleep Foundation, 90 percent of American parents think their child is getting enough sleep. The kids themselves say otherwise. In those same surveys, 60 percent of high schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness. In another study, a quarter admit their grades have dropped because of it. Over 25 percent fall asleep in class at least once a week.

The raw numbers more than back them up. Half of all adolescents get less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights. By the time they are seniors in high school, according to studies by the University of Kentucky, they average only slightly more than 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Only 5 percent of high-school seniors average eight hours. Sure, we remember being tired when we went to school. But not like today’s kids.

It has been documented in a handful of major studies that children, from elementary school through high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. While parents obsess over babies’ sleep, this concern falls off the priority list after preschool. Even kindergartners get 30 minutes less a night than they used to.

There are many causes for this lost hour of sleep. Overscheduling of activities, burdensome homework, lax bedtimes, televisions and cell phones in the bedroom all contribute. So does guilt; home from work after dark, parents want time with their children and are reluctant to play the hard-ass who orders them to bed. All these reasons converge on one simple twist of convenient ignorance: Until now, we could overlook the lost hour because we never really knew its true cost to children.

Using newly developed technological and statistical tools, sleep scientists have recently been able to isolate and measure the impact of this single lost hour. Because children’s brains are a work-in-progress until the age of 21, and because much of that work is done while a child is asleep, this lost hour appears to have an exponential impact on children that it simply doesn’t have on adults.

The surprise is how much sleep affects academic performance and emotional stability, as well as phenomena that we assumed to be entirely unrelated, such as the international obesity epidemic and the rise of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure: damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover. It’s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teen—moodiness, depression, and even binge eating—are actually symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.

Po Bronson

The fountain of eternal youth is not a fountain, as a matter of fact it is probably a pill...

Andy Dillin is a young man. He is thirty-six years old, and he is just getting started.

He works as a molecular biologist and geneticist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. Over the past year, he has published three papers that have received a lot of attention and that seem to bring closer to reality the possibility that humans will one day be able to, in his words, "change the aging program."

Changing the aging program means three different things. The thing that's gotten the most attention is the possibility of increasing life span. The thing by which Dillin justifies his work in the here and now is the possibility that his work may lead to treatments for such age-related diseases as Alzheimer's, cancer, and diabetes. And the thing that gets Dillin most excited -- and most philosophical -- is the possibility that by addressing age-related diseases, he is addressing something else entirely: youthfulness.

For many decades, science had difficulty talking about aging for the same reason that even now it has trouble talking about youthfulness. Science has trouble talking about things it can't measure in a lab. And because the aging process in humans (or even mice) takes so long, science's understanding of aging was based on observation rather than experiment. As a result, what Dillin calls the "prevailing dogma" grew up around aging: Creatures grow old because they wear out over time. Cells grow old because they wear out over time. Aging was simply an accumulation of abuse. It was not something the body did; rather, it was something the body had done to it.

There were even chicken-and-egg questions about the relationship between aging and the diseases associated with it. Given that anyone who gets old enough will develop cancer or diabetes or heart disease or Alzheimer's, maybe aging did not exist in and of itself but was instead the by-product of disease.

What changed the understanding of aging was a worm. Granted, it was a very special worm -- a worm bred as a model for studies of cell development by Sydney Brenner, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002. Still, it was a worm, a roundworm, or nematode, called C. elegans. It was small, it was fecund, it stood up well to laboratory manipulation, and, best of all, it got its living and dying over with in about three weeks.

Then, in the early '90s, a scientist at the University of California at San Francisco, Cynthia Kenyon, demonstrated the influence of genes on aging by mutating one C. elegans gene and doubling the worm's life span. One gene, twice the life. A few years later, Andy Dillin worked in Kenyon's lab and was struck then -- as he is now -- by the fact that what seemed the most profound manipulation of an animal's life span was really just a matter of simple genetics.

When Dillin came to Salk five years ago, he was determined to find out how the longevity pathway that Kenyon discovered actually worked. "It was an insulin-signaling pathway," he says, "and so it affected a lot of things other than longevity, like growth and diabetes. I wanted to find out how it specifically affected longevity, and if it could affect longevity without affecting the other things. I figured it would take my entire career as a scientist." Instead, he found it -- a specific protein in the insulin-receptor pathway, henceforth called the "longevity protein" -- three years later, at the age of thirty-four.

At around the same time, he identified a gene that accounts for the increase in longevity of animals on diet restriction. This sounds esoteric, but it's not. In fact, scientists have known for a long time that animals whose caloric intake is 30 or 40 percent less than normal live much longer than animals that eat as much as they want. The problem is that very few animals would volunteer to push themselves toward starvation in order to extend their lives, notwithstanding the sect of two thousand or so humans currently doing just that. What Dillin's lab did, however, was identify the gene responsible for the increases in longevity associated with diet restriction. It was called PHA-4,but in the press it became the "longevity gene," because when knocked out, it made diet restriction useless, and when amped up, it made diet restriction unnecessary. In particular, it allowed the American media to voice the hope that one day a treatment would be developed that would enable us to enjoy the benefits of diet restriction while in fact eating as much as we damn well please.

It doesn't end there. At around the same time, Dillin also discovered that when he extended the lives of his worms, he made them immune to Alzheimer's.

Dillin revealed these results in three papers published in the space of one year, beginning in 2006. It was a startling achievement -- a collaborator at Salk calls him the most successful young scientist in the world -- but even as news of his accomplishments moved from the scientific press to the mainstream media, his philosophically inclined mother sent him a quote from her favorite author, Friedrich Nietzsche: "You have made your way from the worm to man. And much within you is still worm." In fact, everything her son had discovered he had discovered in a creature that is nearly invisible to the eye and that, by his own accounting, lives "to eat, shit, and reproduce, and that's about it." There would be an incalculable jump in complexity from worm to man. At the same time, most of the genes found in C. elegans are also found in humans; the longevity protein and the longevity gene are structurally no different in worms and in people. And over the past year, Dillin's lab has undertaken and succeeded in the difficult business of replicating its experimental results in mice.

So here is where the question of youthfulness comes up. Youthfulness is what Dillin suspects is making the animals resistant to Alzheimer's. It is not that the effects of the disease are being blocked by a specific agent; it's that cellular functioning has been kicked into a higher gear for the entire organism.

One of the papers Dillin has yet to publish has to do with a compound -- a drug -- found by his lab that also makes the worms resistant to Alzheimer's. His lab did not set out to find a drug; it intended to find a research tool that would allow him to investigate the insulin-signaling and PHA-4 pathways without having to mutate any genes, which can't return to normal. He had one of the research associates working in his lab test a series of compounds found in nature, and was surprised to find one that prevents the Alzheimer's symptoms more effectively than the mutated genes did. The compound also seemed to extend the life spans of the worms, although Dillin doesn't yet know exactly how it works. Once he informed the Salk Institute what his lab had found, Salk improved upon the compound and changed its chemical structure so that it is, in effect, a novel compound. It is not found in nature anymore. It is a proprietary property.

"I always thought that it was going to take a combination of drugs to increase life span," Dillin says. "But the new drug is just a single compound, and it works sooooo good." And yeah, he says it just like that -- sooooo good. Generally, he's very open, generous, and forthcoming when he's talking about his work. When he talks about the drug, however, he gets a little cagey, a little coy, almost a little smug. It's as though he were holding a trump card and has forgotten to be poker-faced. Or maybe he simply can't bring himself to believe the reality of his good fortune. Because there is an element of fortune -- luck -- in all of science, and fortune has favored Dillin's lab to the extent that people ask him what he must ask himself: Can it be this easy?

Tom Junod

How he makes life

It’s a golden fall day on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the water from Boston, and there are sailboats on the river, and white birds and falling leaves are riding the same breeze -- a beautiful, optimistic morning, so sunny and soul warming that you might actually be given to believe the thirty-seven-year-old man sitting cross-legged on the park bench beside you when he announces that he will build houses out of gigantic programmable gourds.

You want to believe him because he will make other promises, too, the sorts of promises that have been made by science and by scientists for the last hundred years, the sorts of promises that would make a four-bedroom, two-bathroom pumpkin seem ordinary.

No more oil rigs.

No more malaria.

No more cancer.

Of course you want to believe him. Someone you love will one day live or die because this man's dreams have or have not come true. And since you believe him, you're also scared. Because so is he.

Drew Endy

But what if fat was just a virus?

In the early 1980s, a bird virus swept through India and killed hundreds of thousands of chickens, and a veterinarian named Sharad Ajinkya noticed that the virus also seemed to make the chickens fat, which was odd -- if the virus was killing them, shouldn't it make them thinner? A few years later, he mentioned the fat chickens to Nikhil Dhurandhar, a young obesity specialist who ran a series of clinics in Bombay. Dhurandhar had seen so many people struggle with weight, fighting epic battles of willpower and poisoning their lives with self-loathing. But what if fat was just a virus?

The first step was obvious. Working with Ajinkya, he got some germ-free chickens and injected them with the bird virus. When he checked them six weeks later, the average weight of the chickens had shot up by 50 percent without getting higher levels of cholesterol or triglycerides, a most intriguing paradox. Then he took samples from ?fty-two of his human patients and checked them for antibodies to the chicken virus and bingo, the fattest patients tested positive for the virus and also for lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

In 1992, Dhurandhar quit his job and took his theory to the United States, giving himself two years to land a research job. The reception he got is reflected in the mockery that still fills the Internet. "I'm not going to work tomorrow, I'm calling in fat. . . . Since when is a fifteen-piece bucket of fried chicken a virus?" It was rooted in religion, Dhurandhar decided, this idea that fat people were gluttons deserving the punishment of every pound. You couldn't just catch fat. So Nikhil was right down to his self-imposed deadline when a job at the University of Wisconsin came through.

The data from his first American tests came back on a cold winter day in Madison, when snow covered the hills around the lab. A similar virus had made American chickens fat, too. "I could see thirty years of research stretching out ahead."

Dhurandhar had stumbled onto one of the hottest new ideas in biochemistry, the idea that our bodies are a kind of rain forest for parasites and bacteria and that we and our parasites have coevolved into a genuine ecology -- the "microbiome," it is called.

Joel Weinstock's eureka moment came on an airplane -- the kind of magic, unscheduled time when a man's mind just naturally drifts to intestinal flora. As he puzzled over a sheaf of statistics that showed a dramatic increase of immunological diseases in developed countries, he remembered some other work he was doing on helminths, parasites that had nearly been eradicated in developed countries -- hookworm and pinworm, for example. Suddenly he made the connection. "Oh my God," he thought. "It could be those helminths."

In those days, nobody had anything good to say about intestinal parasites. Mothers warned their children that going barefoot could result in foot-long worms that would sap your energy and doom you to Third World poverty, if not actually emerging snakelike from your mouth at the smell of a fragrant bowl of soup. But when Weinstock looked at the scientific record, he just didn't see any evidence that helminths were bad. And as soon as his lab started running animal tests, the results showed the opposite. "Lo and behold, we could inhibit immunological diseases with worms."

Like Nikhil Dhurandhar, he had gotten a glimpse into a brand-new scientific revolution, a paradigm shift in the way we think about the human body. In the old way of thinking, the body was a pristine homeland we had to defend from attack by bad germs. Cholera and dysentery were classic bad germs that we defeated with antibiotics and modern sanitation, cleanliness marching next to godliness. But in our fervor we forgot the trillions of resident bacteria that live permanently on our skin and inside our bodies, not to mention the various viruses and fungi and the odd patch of yeast. In fact, an astonishing 90 percent of the cells in the body are microbiotic colonizers. Many have been with us since the beginning of time. Helminths, for example, have been found in petrified stool and petrified humans, in Egyptian mummies and the Iceman who fell into a glacier ?ve thousand years ago. We have coexisted with them for a hundred thousand years. In undeveloped countries, at least 80 percent of the population carries them.

But in the last hundred years we have nearly made them extinct in developed countries. At the same time, developed countries have seen a steady rise in diseases of the immune system, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, hay fever, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. What if that's not just a coincidence? What if a child is like an unprogrammed computer and the worms are like software that boots up our immune defense systems?

In Martin Blaser’s infectious-disease research lab at New York University, Blaser stands in the hallway in a tight tie and short-sleeved shirt, staring fondly at a poster with black squiggles on it. "This microbe has coevolved with humans, so it really understands us well," he says.

He is speaking of Helicobacter pylori, the Elvis Presley of stomach microbes. Associated with Third World dirt and rural lifestyles, Helicobacter was dying out as fast as Weinstock's worms. It was known to cause ulcers and stomach cancer, which were also dying out rapidly in the developed world. Now Blaser was trying to find an association with esophageal cancer. And one day a grad student came into his office with some puzzling data. "There isn't an association. There's a reverse association."

That was his turning point, the moment the light went on. Because esophageal cancer was the fastest rising cancer in the developed world, which meant that the same bug that caused one cancer could be preventing another, which meant that we couldn't just kill the bugs. We had to understand them, had to learn to work with them, to study the models of cooperation that evolution had established between us. Blaser became chairman of the NYU Department of Medicine and president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and his work linking the rise in esophageal cancer to the loss of Helicobacter won an award from the American Cancer Society. Now the revolution he and Weinstock and Dhurandhar helped start is exploding across the globe. Scientists are using live "microflora" to reduce infection in childbirth, to treat colitis and vaginosis. Last year, American scientists finished the first survey of the microbes in the colon. And in September, the National Institutes of Health committed $115 million to begin archiving our resident microbes and sequencing their genes.

Visionaries are hoping for cures for some forms of obesity and anorexia along with various forms of cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, lupus, and most of the major psychiatric diseases. In the future, Blaser says, pediatricians could help prevent these diseases by infecting babies with a starter kit of friendly bacteria. "Bottom line, humans and our fellow animals have been colonized by microbes for a very long time, going back a billion years. The microbes that we carry have been selected because they are helpful to us. They participate in human physiology. They are a compartment of the body, like the liver or the heart."

Like a microbiologist's version of big-game trophies, the hallways of Blaser's lab are lined with conference presentations -- here are the anthrax studies he did for the government after 9/11, here the famous study where he found an average of forty-eight different kinds of bacteria on a single patch of human skin, the first of its kind. Here's a study of how Helicobacter affects human cell mutations, and a study linking the presence of Helicobacter to an almost 40 percent decrease in the risk of having asthma, a huge finding that could save thousands of lives. Then he stops in front of a last poster, a recent study of psoriatic skin. It hasn't been published yet, so he doesn't want to say too much. But he admits to a certain excitement. "There's a difference in the population of microbes," he whispers.

"So you eliminate them and cure psoriasis?"

"Or maybe you have to add some back," he says, smiling at an inner vision. "I'm thinking, maybe you have to add some back."

John H. Richardson

DYI (do it itself) robot

Machines That Fix Themselves

There will come a time when computers and robots don't need humans to program them. For mechanical engineer Hod Lipson, that time is now. And it all starts with his four-legged starfish robot.

Beginning with no idea of what it looks like, the starfish makes random motions and measures how it tilts. It then generates about a hundred different hypotheses about what its structure might be, moves itself again, collects more data to determine which models are potentially correct, and behaves accordingly. It continues this process of weeding out less-useful models until an accurate one is found and takes hold, a process inspired by Darwinian evolution. And if anything happens to it -- for example, it loses one of its legs or falls from a table -- it can then generate a new model to adapt to different circumstances, with no human assistance.

Well beyond smart robots, this self-adapting technology could one day be used to erect buildings that can repair themselves, airplanes that anticipate mechanical problems, and bridges that sense and readjust for potential structural pitfalls.

In the shorter term, a self-modeling robot could be used to explore the planets, repairing and reprogramming itself depending upon conditions on the ground.

Doug Cantor

Can we really heal Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of late-life dementia. It is estimated to affect 24 million people worldwide, and half of the people over 85 may suffer from it. This fatal disorder is characterized by a decline in the individuals' memory and in their ability to think and function independently. Current drugs treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's but not the underlying cause of the disease.

A protein called the amyloid-beta protein (A-beta) is thought to be a key cause of AD. A-beta proteins apparently stick together to form toxic deposits in the brain. Self-associations of A-beta can form various clump structures called "amyloid plaques". Recent studies suggest that these plaques have potent neurotoxic activities that may kill brain cells.

UCLA scientists, headed by David Teplow, Professor of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, have recently identified a loop in the A-beta protein that is likely to be responsible for the adhesion process. The UCLA team employed an interdisciplinary research strategy. Among other methods, they have revealed morphologic, conformational, and aggregation features of synthetic A-beta in a tube ('in vitro'), examined the effects of various A-beta assemblies on the physiology of cultured neuronal cell lines ('in vivo') and used computerized methods ('in silico') to produce models of A-beta structures and to study its conformational dynamics and assembly. The researchers thus discovered that gene mutations in A-beta increase the flexibility of the protein's loop, enabling it to join easily with loops of other A-beta proteins to form clumps. The loop is also located in the region of the protein that regulates the formation of A-beta and its amount.

Understanding how the toxic A-beta clumps form in the brain could aid the design of new drugs that both block the production of A-beta and prevent it from clumping. Such drugs could be used to prevent or treat the disease. Furthermore, the A-beta assemblies are now known to share properties with other proteins linked to an increasing number of human diseases of aging. This revelation suggests the existence of a common pathogenetic pathway. Therefore, research conducted on AD is likely to advance efforts to understand and treat other disorders.

TFOT previously covered a couple of other AD related researches. One of them led to the discovery of a protein complex named Ab*56 (amyloid beta star 56), which is thought to be a dominant factor in the early development of AD, while the other one developed a method to decrease neuron loss rates.

Einat Rotman

When the Viral Video is artificially infected...

This guest post was written by Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of viral video marketing company The Comotion Group and lead TA for the Stanford Facebook Class. Dan will graduate from the Stanford Management Science & Engineering Masters program in June.

Have you ever watched a video with 100,000 views on YouTube and thought to yourself: “How the hell did that video get so many views?” Chances are pretty good that this didn’t happen naturally, but rather that some company worked hard to make it happen – some company like mine.

When most people talk about “viral videos,” they’re usually referring to videos like Miss Teen South Carolina, Smirnoff’s Tea Partay music video, the Sony Bravia ads, Soulja Boy - videos that have traveled all around the internet and been posted on YouTube, MySpace, Google Video, Facebook, Digg, blogs, etc. - videos with millions and millions of views.

Over the past year, I have run clandestine marketing campaigns meant to ensure that promotional videos become truly viral, as these examples have become in the extreme. In this post, I will share some of the techniques I use to do my job: to get at least 100,000 people to watch my clients’ “viral” videos.

Secret #1: Not all viral videos are what they seem

There are tens of thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube each day (I’ve heard estimates between 10-65,000 videos per day). I don’t care how “viral” you think your video is; no one is going to find it and no one is going to watch it.

The members of my startup are hired guns – our clients give us videos and we make them go viral. Our rule of thumb is that if we don’t get a video 100,000 views, we don’t charge.

So far, we’ve worked on 80-90 videos and we’ve seen overwhelming success. In the past 3 months, we’ve achieved over 20 million views for our clients, with videos ranging from 100,000 views to upwards of 1.5 million views each. In other words, not all videos go viral organically – there is a method to the madness.

I can’t reveal our clients’ names and I can’t link to the videos we’ve worked on, because YouTube surely doesn’t like what we’re doing and our clients hate to admit that they need professional help with their “viral” videos. But I can give you a general idea of who we’ve worked with: two top Hollywood movie studios, a major record label, a variety of very well known consumer brands, and a number of different startups, both domestic and international.

This summer, we were approached by a Hollywood movie studio and asked to help market a series of viral clips they had created in advance of a blockbuster. The videos were 10-20 seconds each, were shot from what appeared to be a camera phone, and captured a series of unexpected and shocking events that required professional post-production and CGI. Needless to say, the studio had invested a significant amount of money in creating the videos but every time they put them online, they couldn’t get more than a few thousand views.

We took six videos and achieved:

6 million views on YouTube
~30,000 ratings
~10,000 favorites
200+ blog posts linking back to the videos
All six videos made it into the top 5 Most Viewed of the Day, and the two that went truly viral (1.5 million views each) were #1 and #2 Most Viewed of the Week.
The following principles were the secrets to our success.

2. Content is NOT King

If you want a truly viral video that will get millions of people to watch and share it, then yes, content is key. But good content is not necessary to get 100,000 views if you follow these strategies.

Don’t get me wrong: the content is what will drive visitors back to a site. So a video must have a decent concept, but one shouldn’t agonize over determining the best “viral” video possible. Generally, a concept should not be forced because it fits a brand. Rather, a brand should be fit into a great concept. Here are some guidelines we follow:

Make it short: 15-30 seconds is ideal; break down long stories into bite-sized clips
Design for remixing: create a video that is simple enough to be remixed over and over again by others. Ex: “Dramatic Hamster”
Don’t make an outright ad: if a video feels like an ad, viewers won’t share it unless it’s really amazing. Ex: Sony Bravia
Make it shocking: give a viewer no choice but to investigate further. Ex: “UFO Haiti”
Use fake headlines: make the viewer say, “Holy shit, did that actually happen?!” Ex: “Stolen Nascar”
Appeal to sex: if all else fails, hire the most attractive women available to be in the video. Ex: “Yoga 4 Dudes”
These recent videos would have been perfect had they been viral “ads” pointing people back to websites:

Model Falls in Hole on Runway
Cheerleader Gets Run Over By Football Team
PacMan: The Chase
Dog Drives Car
Snowball – Dancing Cockatoo

3. Core Strategy: Getting onto the “Most Viewed” page

Now that a video is ready to go, how the hell is it going to attract 100,000 viewers?

The core concept of video marketing on YouTube is to harness the power of the site’s traffic. Here’s the idea: something like 80 million videos are watched each day on YouTube, and a significant number of those views come from people clicking the “Videos” tab at the top. The goal is to get a video on that Videos page, which lists the Daily Most Viewed videos.

If we succeed, the video will no longer be a single needle in the haystack of 10,000 new videos per day. It will be one of the twenty videos on the Most Viewed page, which means that we can grab 1/20th of the clicks on that page! And the higher up on the page our video is, the more views we are going to get.

So how do we get the first 50,000 views we need to get our videos onto the Most Viewed list?

Blogs: We reach out to individuals who run relevant blogs and actually pay them to post our embedded videos. Sounds a little bit like cheating/PayPerPost, but it’s effective and it’s not against any rules.
Forums: We start new threads and embed our videos. Sometimes, this means kickstarting the conversations by setting up multiple accounts on each forum and posting back and forth between a few different users. Yes, it’s tedious and time-consuming, but if we get enough people working on it, it can have a tremendous effect.
MySpace: Plenty of users allow you to embed YouTube videos right in the comments section of their MySpace pages. We take advantage of this.
Facebook: Share, share, share. We’ve taken Dave McClure’s advice and built a sizeable presence on Facebook, so sharing a video with our entire friends list can have a real impact. Other ideas include creating an event that announces the video launch and inviting friends, writing a note and tagging friends, or posting the video on Facebook Video with a link back to the original YouTube video.
Email lists: Send the video to an email list. Depending on the size of the list (and the recipients’ willingness to receive links to YouTube videos), this can be a very effective strategy.
Friends: Make sure everyone we know watches the video and try to get them to email it out to their friends, or at least share it on Facebook.
Each video has a shelf life of 48 hours before it’s moved from the Daily Most Viewed list to the Weekly Most Viewed list, so it’s important that this happens quickly. As I mentioned before, when done right, this is a tremendously successful strategy.

4. Title Optimization

Once a video is on the Most Viewed page, what can be done to maximize views?

It seems obvious, but people see hundreds of videos on YouTube, and the title and thumbnail are an easy way for video publishers to actively persuade someone to click on a video. Titles can be changed a limitless number of times, so we sometimes have a catchy (and somewhat misleading) title for the first few days, then later switch to something more relevant to the brand. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend towards titling videos with the phrases “exclusive,” “behind the scenes,” and “leaked video.”

5. Thumbnail Optimization

If a video is sitting on the Most Viewed page with nineteen other videos, a compelling video thumbnail is the single best strategy to maximize the number of clicks the video gets.

YouTube provides three choices for a video’s thumbnail, one of which is grabbed from the exact middle of the video. As we edit our videos, we make sure that the frame at the very middle is interesting. It’s no surprise that videos with thumbnails of half naked women get hundreds of thousands of views. Not to say that this is the best strategy, but you get the idea. Two rules of thumb: the thumbnail should be clear (suggesting high video quality) and ideally it should have a face or at least a person in it.

Also, when we feel particularly creative, we optimize all three thumbnails then change the thumbnail every few hours. This is definitely an underused strategy, but it’s an interesting way to keep a video fresh once it’s on the Most Viewed list.

See the highlighted videos in the screenshot below for a good example of how a compelling title and screenshot can make all the difference once the video is on the Most Viewed page.

6. Commenting: Having a conversation with yourself

Every power user on YouTube has a number of different accounts. So do we. A great way to maximize the number of people who watch our videos is to create some sort of controversy in the comments section below the video. We get a few people in our office to log in throughout the day and post heated comments back and forth (you can definitely have a lot of fun with this). Everyone loves a good, heated discussion in the comments section - especially if the comments are related to a brand/startup.

Also, we aren’t afraid to delete comments – if someone is saying our video (or your startup) sucks, we just delete their comment. We can’t let one user’s negativity taint everyone else’s opinions.

We usually get one comment for every thousand views, since most people watching YouTube videos aren’t logged in. But a heated comment thread (done well) will engage viewers and will drive traffic back to our sites.

7. Releasing all videos simultaneously

Once people are watching a video, how do we keep them engaged and bring them back to a website?

A lot of the time our clients say: “We’ve got 5 videos and we’re going to release one every few days so that viewers look forward to each video.”

This is the wrong way to think about YouTube marketing. If we have multiple videos, we post all of them at once. If someone sees our first video and is so intrigued that they want to watch more, why would we make them wait until we post the next one? We give them everything up front. If a user wants to watch all five of our videos right now, there’s a much better chance that we’ll be able to persuade them to click through to our website. We don’t make them wait after seeing the first video, because they’re never going to see the next four.

Once our first video is done, we delete our second video then re-upload it. Now we have another 48-hour window to push it to the Most Viewed page. Rinse and repeat. Using this strategy, we give our most interested viewers the chance to fully engage with a campaign without compromising the opportunity to individually release and market each consecutive video.

8. Strategic Tagging: Leading viewers down the rabbit hole

This is one of my favorite strategies and one that I think we invented. YouTube allows you to tag your videos with keywords that make your videos show up in relevant searches. For the first week that our video is online, we don’t use keyword tags to optimize the video for searches on YouTube. Instead, we’ve discovered that you can use tags to control the videos that show up in the Related Videos box.

I like to think about it as leading viewers down the rabbit hole. The idea here is to make it as easy as possible for viewers to engage with all your content, rather than jumping away to “related” content that actually has nothing to do with your brand/startup.

So how do we strategically tag? We choose three or four unique tags and use only these tags for all of the videos we post. I’m not talking about obscure tags; I’m talking about unique tags, tags that are not used by any other YouTube videos. Done correctly, this will allow us to have full control over the videos that show up as “Related Videos.”

When views start trailing off after a few days to a week, it’s time to add some more generic tags, tags that draw out the long tail of a video as it starts to appear in search results on YouTube and Google.

9. Metrics/Tracking: How we measure effectiveness

The following is how we measure the success of our viral videos.

For one, we tweak the links put up on YouTube (whether in a YouTube channel or in a video description) by adding “?video=1” to the end of each URL. This makes it much easier to track inbound links using Google Analytics or another metrics tool.

TubeMogul and VidMetrix also track views/comments/ratings on each individual video and draw out nice graphs that can be shared with the team. Additionally, these tools follow the viral spread of a video outside of YouTube and throughout other social media sites and blogs.


The Wild West days of Lonely Girl and Ask A Ninja are over. You simply can’t expect to post great videos on YouTube and have them go viral on their own, even if you think you have the best videos ever. These days, achieving true virality takes serious creativity, some luck, and a lot of hard work. So, my advice: fire your PR firm and do it yourself.

Facebook is mostly a "she"

A blogger named Paul Francis went to the trouble of gathering Facebook user data via an advertiser tool that facilitates audience targeting. He pulled user numbers for the top countries, broken down by male/female.

The data set is here. The tool shows a total of 42,966,780 members in the top 31 countries. The U.S. leads with just over 18 million users, followed by the UK (6.8m), Canada (6.7m), Australia (1.9m) and Turkey (1.6m).

Forty percent of U.S. users are male, compared to 36% overall. Men looking for love may want to try Ireland or China, where 73% and 72% of users are female, respectively. Other than the U.S., which has the highest percentage of males, the lowest percentage of female users is in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE and Egypt.


Finally, DRM is dying

Ken Fisher: 2007 is the year of the infamous Steve Jobs open letter on DRM, the year that EMI got brave enough to kick DRM to the curb, and even Universal is considering the idea. I've long argued that DRM isn't about piracy, it's about selling your rights back to you. With the growing backlash against DRM, smart players are realizing that their customers don't want to be treated like thieves, even if the MPAA has the gall to suggest that they do. Yet, even the MPAA knows that customers are tired of seeing their fair use rights trampled, coming out earlier this year to call for a change in the industry.

DRM isn't dead yet, but the writing is on the wall. DRM for music will likely not last another year. DRM for video is another matter, as those players remain convinced that their products need protection. Once DRM dies in the music scene, however, the pressure will be on Hollywood to explain why it continues to trample on fair use.

Ars Technica

Energy Development: an unavoidable possibility

An energy company intends to spend $1.4 billion constructing a new synfuels plant and coal mine in southwestern North Dakota, state and industry officials say.

Chuck Kerr, chief executive officer of Great Northern Power Development LP, said Tuesday there was an 80 percent chance the project would be built. If it is, the synfuels plant and a nearby coal mine will provide about 200 permanent jobs, Kerr said.

The plant and lignite mine will be near South Heart, west of Dickinson in western Stark County, officials said. Kerr said the company wants to begin construction in late 2009, and begin operating in 2012.

That's $1.8 billion, with a B. The amount of investment to develop new domestic energy resources is mind-boggling, a testimony to the years of planning, advanced technology -- especially for coal conversion -- and engineering and physical plant that are necessary.

It pays off because America needs the energy.
BISMARCK, ND (2007-11-22) The North Dakota Public Service Commission has granted the TransCanada pipeline company a certificate of public convenience and necessity. That means the PSC has determined that the proposed pipeline -- which will carry Canadian crude through eastern North Dakota -- would be in the public interest, and the company would have the financial means of building it.

One of the arguments for the pipeline is to reduce US dependence on overseas oil.

"When you look at where this country gets its crude oil from, in large part, it's from some very scary neighborhhods in the world," said Commissioner Tony Clark.

Commissioner Kevin Cramer agreed.

"The growing demand for petroleum products is a reality," said Cramer. "This is a much safer and friendlier supply."

You wish other regulators and policymakers would realize the same thing.

Associated Press

Your Blog could last longer than what you would like...

A staggering 4.5 million young people would not like a prospective employer or university to see their online profiles without getting a chance to get rid of some of the dodgy content first, according to a survey carried out by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The extensive survey found that nearly 60pc of those questioned never considered that the information they post online on blogs, social networking sites and chat forums leaves a digital footprint that could very well be accessed a decade or so from now.
In Ireland, the director of the NCTE (National centre for Technology in Education), Gerome Morrissey, estimates there are “probably a half a million young people, between the ages of 13 and 23, online daily,” according to
While most profiles on social networking sites can be made private so that only friends can see personal information, the survey found that two thirds of young people accept friends into their network who are complete strangers.
Going further than this, nearly half of those questioned said they left their profiles open for viewing to attract new friends and over 70pc didn’t care that strangers could see their personal, private information.
This online data is not just simple lists of favourite bands or movies: 60pc of young people give out their date of birth, with one quarter revealing their job title and nearly 10pc listing their home address.
David Smith, deputy commissioner for the ICO, said: “Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind.
“The cost to a person’s future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees.”
On top of this, internet fraudsters could use this personal information to guess passwords and access bank accounts or other sensitive information, says the report.
Ironically, virtually every young person who took part in the survey was concerned that personal information could be used by websites to target them for advertising, but did not seem to be aware of their rights with regard to the privacy policies of individual sites.
By Marie Boran

Venom against cancer

The anti-cancer properties of the medicine obtained from the venom have been successfully tested in Cuba after several years of research. Approximately 110 millimeters of scorpion toxin, highly effective in the treatment of cancer, have been obtained every month since August in the eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas.

The anti-cancer properties of the medicine obtained from the venom have been successfully tested in Cuba after several years of research.
Approximately 110 millimeters of scorpion toxin, highly effective in the treatment of cancer, have been obtained every month since August in the eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas.

At present, technicians at an area scorpion farm are able to milk venom from some 800scorpions using electrodes. This technique is applied in other Cuban cities, such as Guantanamo, and there are scorpion farms run by the Pharmaceutical and Biological Laboratories (LABIOFAM) in each of the island’s provinces.

The product has proven itself harmless to the human body and highly successful in the treatment of tumors and illnesses related to the central nervous system.

Likewise, this product has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been successfully administered to patients suffering from lung, uterus, prostate and pancreas ailments.

Cuba relies on technology to facilitate the reproduction of scorpions in captivity, which is essential for increasing production and thus meeting domestic demand, as it will be for supplying the anticipated foreign demand once the product is patented.

Submitted by nesy

Ringtones, a good business

Hope you enjoyed those Ringtone profits --
The days of fleecing folks for $2.49 for a snippet of song may now be numbered. Apple will let you take any part of an actual song for $.99 (so long as you've also spent the $.99 to buy the original from iTunes).
As far as I know, the carrier gets nothing.
It's not just the lost cash profits that will hurt. To the extent that the industry has to follow Apple's lead--highly likely--then AT&T and its carrier pals will no longer be able to point so much to this silly market as proof that they can build profitable new consumer service offerings on top of their basic business of selling connections.
If ever there was a market just waiting for disruption by the likes of Apple, this was it.

Hello, Wifi -- When the iPhone launched, Steve Jobs made a good show of talking up the merits of Ma Bell and its network.
But today's wireless download services work only with WiFi, not with AT&T's or any other cellular carriers network.
Jobs even went out of his way during his presentation to point out that WiFi is not only faster than the 2.5G network iPhone users now get from AT&T, but faster than 3G networks as well.
Now, spin things forward to a future of ubiquitous WiMax connectivity, delivered in large part courtesy of Apple's friends at Intel. If that day ever arrives, is there any doubt where Apple will focus its efforts?

The iPod touch -- It's a compelling product in many ways--but the most obvious target market are folks who would love to have an iPhone but just don't want the phone part. That means there will be some people that might have switched to AT&T to get an iPhone, anyway--but now don't have to.

Peter Burrows

I continue to be simultaneously impressed and depressed by the inane ringtone marketplace. To the extent that the carriers have been treating this as a wonderous profit center, they've built an edifice on a foundation not merely of quicksand, but of thin air.

I'm not talking about Steve Jobs' ringtone announcement -- that's still in the silly category, because ... one day more people are going to realize that they can take just about any mp3 file or midi file and convert them for free to use as ringtones. Free. Not $2.49, not 99 cents.

Yes, it takes a bit of effort to get the ringtones onto some phones, but there are tools to automate the process, and most modern cell phones can handle midi and often mp3 files with relatively minor processing (if any).

It is staggering to see people paying ridiculous amounts for ringtones even of public domain selections that are freely available.

The carriers have been playing on the general public's lack of information about how ringtones work and how easy they are to create. That particular house of cards is likely to collapse soon, with or without Steve Jobs' assistance.

Lauren Weinstein

Unlocked iPhones? Only in Germany and not cheap...

T-Mobile will sell an unlocked version of Apple's popular iPhone in Germany as it fights a legal challenge from rival Vodafone.

The move comes after a court granted an injunction (requested by Vodafone) mandating that T-Mobile either sell an unlocked version of the iPhone or withdraw the product from the market.

Vodafone contends German competition law prohibits an operator from selling a locked phone with a two-year contract. T-Mobile announced on Wednesday it would sell an unlocked version of the iPhone for 999 euros (or $1,481). T-Mobile sells a locked 8GB iPhone in Germany for 399 euros including 19 percent value-added tax.

However, T-Mobile is appealing the injunction and will withdraw the unlocked version if the company prevails, said Klaus Czerwinski, a T-Mobile spokesman. T-Mobile is also considering filing for damages against Vodafone.

"We think the law does not apply to this situation," Czerwinski said. "We are still going to court."

The unlocked version means that users can put in a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) from another operator and subscribe to a different - and perhaps cheaper - service plan.

European consumers are used to getting free or heavily subsidised phones if they sign up for a long-term contract, but those handsets usually won't work on other networks. Unlocked phones command a higher price.

Apple's strategy of securing agreements with just one operator has rankled many interested in the iPhone. The iPhone's relatively high price and 18- to 24-month service contracts caused hackers to find ways to break the software locking the phone to one operator. Apple has been patching its software to nullify the hacks.

Vodafone said users who opt for the unlocked version will miss out on some of the features that are exclusive to the company's network, such as the iPhone's Visual Voicemail, which lets users select and listen to messages, Czerwinski said.

By the end of next month, Vodafone will have the only nationwide EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) network coverage throughout Germany, Czerwinski said. EDGE enables download speeds between 70Kbit/s to 135Kbit/s.

The iPhone can use EDGE and Wi-Fi networks but lacks 3G (third-generation) capabilities. Vodafone contends its flat-rate data traffic package is the most competitive in the German market since the iPhone uses a lot of data.

Vodafone was among several operators vying to be the iPhone's sole supplier in Germany but lost out to T-Mobile. T-Mobile said it sold 15,000 iPhones when it went on sale in Germany on 9 November.

Jeremy Kirk

Handheld PC that uses WiMax

A Taiwanese government-backed consortium has developed a powerful handheld PC that uses a WiMax wireless broadband connection to access the web.

The MTube, as the device is called, carries a 1GHz microprocessor made by Via Technologies, an x86-based processor able to use software meant for PCs. But the MTube weighs only 150 grams and has a 2.8-inch screen, so it's small enough to fit in person's pocket. It can store 8GB of songs, photos and other data and runs on a Linux OS.

MTube also works with Wi-Fi connections, but does not work on 3G mobile telecommunications networks, according to Shen Shu-heng, an official at Taiwan's Institute for Information Industry (III), one of the groups responsible for the device.

Development of the MTube, which is made solely from parts manufactured in Taiwan, is aimed at promoting Taiwanese made goods, as well as developing more devices and applications for WiMax wireless Internet broadband services, Shen said.

Taiwan is positioning itself to be one of the fastest adopters of WiMax connectivity outside of North America through its MTube initiative. Officials see the technology as a good way to spread broadband Internet access throughout the island, which includes remote mountain villages and sparsely populated outlying islands.

Last month, the Taiwan government added several multinationals to a growing list of WiMax wireless broadband technology partners, including Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola, Nokia Siemens Networks and Sprint Nextel. The partnerships are intended to encourage foreign companies to build WiMax research and development centers in Taiwan and look to Taiwanese companies for parts and contract manufacturing work.

Intel was an early champion of WiMax as a replacement for the Wi-Fi wireless networking standard, used for Internet access in coffee shops, airports and other places in much of the developed world. The chip giant has already signed a similar agreement with Taiwan and is working with Taiwanese computer parts makers to ready the technology for inclusion in laptop PCs next year.

Dan Nystedt

It's a small world, where the passion for learning could be the secret to win the competition.

As the world become borderless, people speak more about themselves and they want to be watched by others. Blogs, Youtube, Flickr and many more technology media makes us possible to do that and is tempting us to follow the new trend.
The coming technology in our homeland will makes Indonesia becomes flatter.
Don’t blame the technology because we can’t hold it not to happen. So, instead of making it an enemy, let us use its advantage to improve ourselves. Passion for Learning is a must-key formula to win the future competition.

What is good for Indonesia IS good for ALL.HerMawan

Where have you gone, real, truthful, passionate Blogging?

Mainstream media wants to be part of the conversation as they should. It's not surprising that they are using the same tricks the bloggers have been using for years. And they are using them effectively. The links on techmeme are getting more mainstream every day.

The other thing that has changed is that many of the blogs I "grew up" with are not individual blogs anymore. Rafat has a team, Arrington has a team, Om has a team. ARS, RRW, SAI, Valleywag are all group blogs. They are much better at putting out a stream of blog posts all day long, but they aren't the same thing as Mike and Om blogging along with me. And you can't compete with an army of bloggers on the techmeme leaderboard.

For years, I've been using curators to filter my web experience. I can't and won't subscribe to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs I want to stay on top of. I realize that everything I write here, or on, unionsquareventures, or at newcritics, won't be read by every reader/subscriber. I know that all of you are doing the same thing as I am. We are relying on the world of social media curators to surface up the things that are interesting and we read that.

Techmeme has been the killer social media curator for my world of tech blogs. Lore has it that it was created using Scoble's OPML file. It doesn't matter to me if that's true or not, I love that story. Because my OPML file was unusable until I found Techeme and after that I stopped reading feeds and started reading curated feeds.

But curated systems will be gamed. Everything on the Interent will be gamed. And user generated content won't stay "user" generated forever. The pros will crash any party that's worth crashing and make it their own.

I don't think this is a bad thing, it's just worth noting.


A better use for an onion

How to recharge an iPod with an onion:(video)


Technology can be dangerous if you don't know how to use it

Following the loss of the personal records of some 25 million child benefit recipients by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs this month, the UK government will be acutely aware of how quickly mismanagement of technology can lead to serious problems.

While technology wasn't to blame per se in the HMRC data loss, there are plenty of recorded examples where faulty hardware and software have cost the organisations concerned dearly, both financially and in terms of reputation -- and resulted in some near misses for the public.

Here's our considered list of some of the worst IT-related disasters and failures. The order is subjective -- with number one being the worst -- so feel free to comment using the Talkback facility below if you disagree or have suggestions for disasters we may have missed.

1. Faulty Soviet early warning system nearly causes WWIII (1983)

The threat of computers purposefully starting World War III is still the stuff of science fiction, but accidental software glitches have brought us worryingly close in the past. Although there are numerous alleged events of this ilk, the secrecy around military systems makes it hard to sort the urban myths from the real incidents.

However, one example that is well recorded happened back in 1983, and was the direct result of a software bug in the Soviet early warning system. The Russians' system told them that the US had launched five ballistic missiles. However, the duty officer for the system, one Lt Col Stanislav Petrov, claims he had a "...funny feeling in my gut", and reasoned if the US was really attacking they would launch more than five missiles.

The trigger for the near apocalyptic disaster was traced to a fault in software that was supposed to filter out false missile detections caused by satellites picking up sunlight reflections off cloud-tops.

2. The AT&T network collapse (1990)

In 1990, 75 million phone calls across the US went unanswered after a single switch at one of AT&T's 114 switching centres suffered a minor mechanical problem, which shut down the centre. When the centre came back up soon afterwards, it sent a message to other centres, which in turn caused them to trip and shut down and reset.

The culprit turned out to be an error in a single line of code -- not hackers, as some claimed at the time -- that had been added during a highly complex software upgrade. American Airlines alone estimated this small error cost it 200,000 reservations.

3. The explosion of the Ariane 5 (1996)

In 1996, Europe's newest and unmanned satellite-launching rocket, the Ariane 5, was intentionally blown up just seconds after taking off on its maiden flight from Kourou, French Guiana. The European Space Agency estimated that total development of Ariane 5 cost more than US$8bn. On board Ariane 5 was a US$500m set of four scientific satellites created to study how the Earth's magnetic field interacts with Solar Winds.

According to a piece in the New York Times Magazine, the self-destruction was triggered by software trying to stuff "a 64-bit number into a 16-bit space".

"This shutdown occurred 36.7 seconds after launch, when the guidance system's own computer tried to convert one piece of data -- the sideways velocity of the rocket -- from a 64-bit format to a 16-bit format. The number was too big, and an overflow error resulted. When the guidance system shut down, it passed control to an identical, redundant unit, which was there to provide backup in case of just such a failure. But the second unit had failed in the identical manner a few milliseconds before. And why not? It was running the same software," the article stated.

4. Airbus A380 suffers from incompatible software issues (2006)

The Airbus issue of 2006 highlighted a problem many companies can have with software: what happens when one program doesn't talk to another. In this case, the problem was caused by two halves of the same program, the CATIA software that is used to design and assembly of one of the world's largest aircraft, the Airbus A380.

This was a major European undertaking and, according to Business Week, the problem arose with communications between two organisations in the group: the French Dassault Aviation and a Hamburg factory.

Put simply, the German system used an out-of-date version of CATIA and the French system used the latest version. So when Airbus was bringing together two halves of the aircraft, the different software meant that the wiring on one did not match the wiring in the other. The cables could not meet up without being changed.

The problem was eventually fixed, but only at a cost that nobody seems to want to put an absolute figure on. But all agreed it cost a lot, and put the project back a year or more.

5. Mars Climate Observer metric problem (1998)

Two spacecraft, the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander, were part of a space program that, in 1998, was supposed to study the Martian weather, climate, and water and carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. But a problem occurred when a navigation error caused the lander to fly too low in the atmosphere and it was destroyed.

What caused the error? A sub-contractor on the Nasa programme had used imperial units (as used in the US), rather than the Nasa-specified metric units (as used in Europe).

6. EDS and the Child Support Agency (2004)

Business services giant EDS waded in with this spectacular disaster, which assisted in the destruction of the Child Support Agency (CSA) and cost the taxpayer over a billion pounds.

EDS's CS2 computer system somehow managed to overpay 1.9 million people and underpay around 700,000, partly because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided to reform the CSA at the same time as bringing in CS2.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was outraged when the National Audit Office subsequently picked through the wreckage: "Ignoring ample warnings, the DWP, the CSA and IT contractor EDS introduced a large, complex IT system at the same time as restructuring the agency. The new system was brought in and, as night follows day, stumbled and now has enormous operational difficulties."

7. The two-digit year-2000 problem (1999/2000)

A lot of IT vendors and contractors did very well out of the billions spent to avoid what many feared would be the disaster related to the Millennium Bug. Rumours of astronomical contract rates and retainers abounded.

And the sound of clocks striking midnight in time zones around the world was followed by... not panic, not crashing computer systems, in fact nothing more than new year celebrations.

So why include it here? That the predictions of doom came to naught is irrelevant, as we're not talking about the disaster that was averted, but the original disastrous decision to use and keep using for longer than was either necessary or prudent double digits for the date field in computer programs. A report by the House of Commons Library pegged the cost of fixing the bug at 400 billion pounds. And that is why the Millennium Bug deserves a place in the top 10.

8. When the laptops exploded (2006)

It all began simply, but certainly not quietly, when a laptop manufactured by Dell burst into flames at a trade show in Japan. There had been rumours of laptops catching fire, but the difference here was that the Dell laptop managed to do it in the full glare of publicity and video captured it in full colour.

"We have captured the notebook and have begun investigating the event," a Dell spokesperson reported at the time, and investigate Dell did. At the end of these investigations the problem was traced to an issue with the battery/power supply on the individual laptop that had overheated and caught fire.

It was an expensive issue for Dell to sort out. As a result of its investigation Dell decided that it would be prudent to recall and replace 4.1 million laptop batteries.

Company chief executive Michael Dell eventually laid the blame for the faulty batteries with the manufacturer of the battery cells -- Sony. But that wasn’t the end of it. Apple reported issues for iPods and Macbooks and many PC suppliers reported the same. Matsushita alone has had to recall around 54 million devices. Sony estimated at the time that the overall cost of supporting the recall programmes of Apple and Dell would amount to between 20bn yen and 30bn yen

9. Siemens and the passport system (1999)

It was the summer of 1999, and half a million British citizens were less than happy to discover that their new passports couldn't be issued on time because the Passport Agency had brought in a new Siemens computer system without sufficiently testing it and training staff first.

Hundreds of people missed their holidays and the Home Office had to pay millions in compensation, staff overtime and umbrellas for the poor people queuing in the rain for passports. But why such an unexpectedly huge demand for passports? The law had recently changed to demand, for the first time, that all children under 16 had to get one if they were travelling abroad.

Tory MP Anne Widdecombe summed it up well while berating the then home secretary, Jack Straw, over the fiasco: "Common sense should have told him that to change the law on child passports at the same time as introducing a new computer system into the agency was storing up trouble for the future."

10. LA Airport flights grounded (2007)

Some 17,000 planes were grounded at Los Angeles International Airport earlier this year because of a software problem. The problem that hit systems at United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) agency was a simple one caused in a piece of lowly, inexpensive equipment.

The device in question was a network card that, instead of shutting down as perhaps it should have done, persisted in sending the incorrect data out across the network. The data then cascaded out until it hit the entire network at the USCBP and brought it to a standstill. Nobody could be authorised to leave or enter the US through the airport for eight hours. Passengers were not impressed.

ZDNet Australia

Services you could find useful


OK well you probably heard about this one actually., also known as The Internet Archive, has branded as “Wayback Machine” its Web-snapshot technology. Thanks to this technology you can browse archived versions of most of your favourite websites. Snapshots are taken every month or so, pictures won’t be captured most of the time, and more importantly you won’t be able to go deeply in the website hierarchy - you are limited to the links featured on the welcome page. It doesn’t work with Flash either.

So they are plenty of drawbacks…but then it is so cool if you want to feel a sense of nostalgy ….

2) Compete

Most of you would probably have heard about Alexa, a top-notch web traffic measurement tool. Despite having been heavily criticized by many pundits or bloggers (including TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington), Alexa is just unrivaled.

Or is it ?I have tried Compete, a similar Ajax-based service that features a more straightforward interface. And guess what: it is slightly quicker, results are as good if not better, and the neat, Google-like interface is a must. I mean - these traffic metering tools will always be partly useless because their data is just wrong. But website traffic comparison might eventually come close to the truth, and give you an idea of how a site competes with another. .. adopted as soon as tested !

3) Summize

Online reviews are cool. For example I am personnally interested by what other users think about a book I am planning to purchase (er, OK, right, I must confess I don’t read many books). The problem is that, if I can find most of the time plenty of point of views on Amazon, there are no clear equivalent for other products such as PCs, iPods, CDs, etc…There are some online vendors with a decent traffic, and probably the reviews are actually there - however they are scattered around various websites.

This was before Summize came. Summize is a “search engine for reviews”. Just type in the name of the product, and you’ll have a visually compelling display of the popularity of the product, indications about its price, and qualitative reviews from various sources. Of course Amazon is the main source but if the service manages to get other partners in it this might turn out to be an excellent service, much better than the usual shopping comparison websites. Although I doubt they can convince many sites to get in. Anyway, make your own opinion about this tool, which potential matters more than its actual possibilities.

Tech it easy


Outsourcing is the handing over of a non-core operation of an organziation to an external agency, which is an expert in that particular function. It is a typical strategy adopted by most of the companies especially when it comes to Information Technology. it outsourcing has become a practise for most of the firms across the world. The whole process of Outsourcing involves the following steps:

• Deciding whether to outsource or not: The decision to outsource takes place at a strategic level. This would entail deciding what is to be outsourced and building a business case to justify the decision.
• Supplier Proposal: Suppliers are shortlisted based on the proposal and price issued by them.
• Selecting a Supplier: the supplier is selected based on the proposals. The selection may include holding interviews to clarify the client requirement and supplier response. Supplier is selected from the BAFO ( best and final offer) submitted by them.
• Negotiation: Based on the proposals and BAFO, a contractual agreement is signed between the client and the supplier. This stage finalizes the documentation and final pricing structure.
• Finalizing the contract: this involves a contract agreement between the supplier and client involving a legally binding document
• Transition: the transition phase begins from effective date and usually runs for four months involving process for staff transfer and take on of services.
• Transformation: this involves execution of agreement and lasts for the term of contract.


Information and communication without boundaries

I don’t need a special website to express myself. I need an outlet to publish my thoughts, a community and readers that sometimes give me valuable feedback, ispire or correct me. And the funny thing is that my chances finding these readers in social networks are growing.

My options are changing. First I made a blog because it gave me freedom of publishing. I could stop using Dreamweaver for updates, change the lay-out or control the information anytime I wanted.

We’re getting into a situation where I don’t need to run my own blogsoftware or website to be in full control of my information. With the direction social networks are moving I can easily move my information everywhere I want, when I want.

The barrier of technology had its peak, for now. Everyone can make what he or she likes. We just need to find the tools we need. The real challenge in launching a successful website is in building a great community.


May be in the Designer's future there is DIY

Last week Joe Lamantia, a New York-based user experience and information architecture consultant, gave the closing talk at the Italian IA Summit in Trento, entitled “The DIY Future: what happens when everyone is a designer?”.
In his seemingly very interesting presentation, he talks about integrated experiences, the need for permeability, and conflict as the missing ingredient in design - and also puts the work of Peter Morville, Bruce Sterling and Jesse James Garrett in a new context.

He just posted the abstract and the slides online. I hope audio will soon be available as well.

Broad cultural, technological, and economic shifts are rapidly erasing the distinctions between those who create and those who use, consume, or participate. This is true in digital experiences and information environments of all types, as well as in the physical and conceptual realms. In all of these contexts, substantial expertise, costly tools, specialized materials, and large-scale channels for distribution are no longer required to execute design.

The erosion of traditional barriers to creation marks the onset of the DIY Future, when everyone is a potential designer (or architect, or engineer, or author) of integrated experiences - the hybrid constructs that combine products, services, concepts, networks, and information in support of evolving functional and emotional pursuits.

The cultural and technological shifts that comprise the oncoming DIY Future promise substantial changes to the environments and audiences that design professionals create for, as well as the role of designers, and the ways that professionals and amateurs alike will design. One inevitable aspect consequence will be greater complexity for all involved in the design of integrated experiences. The potential rise of new economic and production models is another.

The time is right to begin exploring aspects of the DIY Future, especially its profound implications for information architecture and user experience design. Using the designer’s powerful fusion of analytical perspective and creative vision, we can balance speculative futurism with an understanding of concrete problems - such as growing ethical challenges and how to resolve them - from the present day.

Putting people first

New wireless broadband licences

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has launched a new competition for wireless licences covering the 26GHz range which would be ideal for broadband backhaul and mobile base station applications.

“Fixed access technology in the microwave bands continues to advance and in recognising this ComReg is now making available by competition 17 new licences for 26GHz spectrum to meet the increasing data needs of telecommunications networks,” the chairman of ComReg Mike Byrne said last night.
The new licences will allow for the provision of point-to-point and point-to-multipoint fixed links.
A reserve price of €350,000 has been placed on each of the national licences and any one applicant can apply for more than six licences.
The regulator said that if demand exceeds supply then the licences will be awarded via an auction.
“This spectrum is suitable for a number of applications, including broadband backhaul, network connectivity between the network core and access nodes such as a GSM base station,” Byrne said.
“Having ensured adequate spectrum is set aside for occasional and low-demand users, we believe that making available additional national licences will offer high demand volume users greater flexibility in their use of this spectrum and opportunities for more efficient network planning,” said Byrne.

By John Kennedy

Transferring money? Use your mobile

The new reform to hit Indian Mobile Industry is money transfer through your cell phone. Isn’t that amazing? Its something that should have been introduced in India much earlier compared to foreign countries, but it’s never too late. Imagine a guy working (lets say in) USA will soon be able to transfer his hard earned money to his family living in small town (say) Jabalpur via mobile.

All he would need to do is recharge his mobile phone with money, same way as he operates with his prepaid mobile account and then SMS the amount to his wife’s mobile.

In return, she would receive a number (similar to a PIN) and be able to cash it at any prepaid distribution point of her mobile service provider.

Anil Kapur, managing director, South Asia, Western Union Financial Services, said: “We have agreements with operators around the world, and are looking at mobile money transfers of principal amounts worth $100 and below. It will be a high volumes-low margin play. It will help the millions in remote towns and villages, who do not have or need a bank account.”

This is really interesting that with a single SMS one can from any part of the world to their friends, relatives or whom so ever concerned with a single SMS.

Since Banking regulations in India currently do not allow cash for exchange of another ‘unit’ such as ‘airtime’ in the case of mobiles. Only banks and the Indian Post (through money orders) are currently allowed such transfers. But now they are looking towards liberalizing it.

The technology is in place and operators are now waiting for the green signal. I expect some announcement and big surprises in this regard from big telecom operators and also by some advertising companies.

“We are currently developing the commercial and technical framework, which operators will be able to use to link their networks into Western Union’s money transfer systems. We expect India, as one of the biggest recipients of remittances, to be among the first countries to benefit from mobile money transfer services,” a GSM Association (GSMA) spokesperson told Business Standard.

Mobile Money Transfer wouldn’t just be limited to common man, big telecoms are going to exploit this opportunity to earn more bucks by introducing some charges on the money transfer. SMS is the most common feature used by major people using cell phones in India. It is a one good platform to get connected and reach maximum audiences. What I don’t understand is that today people and companies talk about GPRS enabled applications and smart phones and all the cool apps that require high end applications why do people and companies not leverage the already popular and readily available SMS platform and build services around it which will appeal to the masses.

Rushabh Choksi

An answer to pollution: bike sharing

European-style bike-sharing programs head to US
6 days ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) — American cities, eager for greener solutions to urban congestion, are rushing to set up bicycle-sharing programs similar to those launched in Europe in recent years.

The US capital of Washington will likely be the first in the nation to offer two-wheeled transport at various locations for a nominal fee, under a deal with advertising giant Clear Channel Outdoor.

San Francisco has reached a deal for a similar program with Clear Channel, while other cities including New York, Chicago and Portland, Oregon, are studying bike options.

"There is a lot of interest in the US, and 2008 is going to be a very big year for bicycle programs," said Paul DeMaio, a consultant to several municipalities on bike programs.

DeMaio said the highly touted 'Velib' program launched in July in Paris -- its name a contraction of the French words "velo" (bike) and "liberte" (freedom) -- drew attention to bicycle programs and spawned interest around the globe, from Montreal to Beijing.

Jim Sebastian, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for the US capital's transportation department, said Washington has been studying the notion of bicycle sharing for several years, before most of the programs were launched in Europe.

"When we put the contract out to bid, there were no bikes in Paris or other European cities, so we didn't know the potential, and we still don't," Sebastian said.

About 120 bicycles will be deployed in the first phase of the Washington program at 10 locations around the city. Details such as costs for usage and membership have yet to be announced. The launch date has not yet been set but is likely to be in March or April of 2008, according to Sebastian.

"One of our main goals is to provide as many transportation options as possible and reduce the level of congestion, especially downtown," he said.

Martina Schmidt, president of Clear Channel unit Adshel, said the company is in the process of setting up programs in Washington and San Francisco modeled on similar ones it operates in Barcelona, Stockholm, Oslo, and Rennes, France.

As in most of the European programs, the costs of the bicycles are offset by revenues from advertising at bus shelters and other "outdoor furniture."

Schmidt says this is a win-win proposition for most cities.

"Based on the experience in Europe, cities see that traffic is congested and everyone is looking for more environmentally friendly modes of transportation," she said.

Schmidt said Clear Channel will be using a "sturdy" bike built for these purposes, which can be adapted to people of various heights. It has some special features including a small front wheel that makes it more maneuverable, but also quirky enough to discourage theft. They will also have automatic lighting for night riding.

The bikes will be locked into docking stations that will be opened with special cards for members.

Sebastian said Washington officials will encourage riders to bring helmets and offer an optional safety course for cyclists, in an effort to overcome fears about the dangers of urban cycling.

Chicago meanwhile is studying two proposals, from France-based JC Decaux -- which operates the Paris system -- and London-based OYBike. Mayor Richard Daley has expressed strong interest in a bicycle program, having viewed the Paris system.

"Mayor Daley's vision is to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States," said Ben Gomberg, bicycle program coordinator for the city.

"In Chicago, almost 60 percent of all trips by city residents are three miles (nearly five kilometers) or less, which are distances very suited for bicycling. That's why we're interested."

Additionally, Gomberg said Chicago is flat and relatively compact compared to many US cities, making cycling easier. He said city officials see many advantages to the program including improving physical fitness and reducing pollution.

DeMaio said there is vast potential for bicycle programs in the US.

"I think it's going to be amazing how fast bike-sharing grows in North America; there are so many great uses for this in cities and university campuses -- it's limitless," he said.

"With increased attention to global warming and the price of gasoline above three dollars a gallon, this is the right time for this form of transit."

DeMaio, in a research paper for George Mason University, said the notion of bike sharing has been around for a long time but that older programs failed because the bicycles were stolen or vandalized. New technology for securing bikes and keeping track of customer usage may make the new-generation programs more sustainable.

He said the latest craze is fueled by advertising companies that offer the bikes as part of a deal with cities, but that this may not work in smaller or more sparsely populated municipalities.

Even without advertising, some programs may be viable if the cities fund them, he said. DeMaio is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, where "we are considering a model where local government provides the service, like bus service and other mass transit


How to brainwash people in 23 steps

“till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!“
- Aldous Huxley,

1. The key to truly effective brainwashing is to work at people’s most fundamental awareness. Shape them at the neurological level so they develop the faculties to take your input and call it “thinking for myself.” Enable them to stop thinking.

2. Limit any and all faculties for self-awareness and self-sensing. Destroy instinct and intuition. Actively and endlessly encourage external awareness. Make people dependent on your external input for as many decisions as possible.

3. Speed up messages so that the pace and rhythm of information is disorienting and visually biased.

4. Condition people to being bombarded with hundreds of thousands of signals a day. Teach them to attend to this stream of information and to call it Reality. Never let them ask what “reality” is.

5. Framing is everything. Decide what you want people to believe and make sure that any choices you give them are within a framework which assures you of your result. This is called the Illusion of Choice. “Do you want to sweep the floor before or after dinner?” Repeat this formula for economic systems, politicians, news stories, competing product brands and entertainment.

6. Appeal to the lowest common denominator. Make sure that all shows model conflict resolution of people with an emotional and intellectual maturity no greater than that of a six year old. Make it funny so no one notices.

7. Keep people passive. Encourage the Couch Potato Alpha Wave Escape Plan as the healing elixir for all that ails.

8. Don’t make people think. Their days are hard enough as is. Bypass the need for opinion making by giving people ready-made opinions. Do it as though you don’t have a conscience – they are probably too stupid to make their own decisions anyway.

9. Ensure that there are no ongoing storylines with meaning or purpose beyond immediate sensory stimulation. Avoid universal themes as much as possible. Make absolutely certain there is no cultural, societal or global story or mythology present that conflicts with the myths of comfort and consumption.

10. Never encourage responsibility, or so much as suggest that humans could be involved in co-creating their future and the realities in which they reside.

11. Encourage group-sanctioned individuality only. By making ‘individuality” the new conformity you are generating a powerful illusion of free choice.

12. Sensationalize the superficial.

13. Keep information bytes infinitesimally small. Promote Attention Deficit Disorder. Several decades of television have already set this in motion.

14. Repetition is key. Repeat important messages as often as possible.

15. Repetition is key.

16. Repetition is key.

17. Bypass rationality by any means possible. People don’t need logic to accept information. Belief is emotional. Always remember: WAR=PEACE.

18. Remember –- two half-truths make up a whole truth.

19. Demonize self-knowledge technology of all kinds. Throw around words like “cult” and “brainwashing.” Marginalize anyone involved in such pursuits.

20. Keep old models of consciousness alive and well. If you can get away with referring to people’s states as being phlegmatic or sanguine instead of programmable and intentional, do it.

21. Keep people’s attention on what really matters. Emphasize what’s wrong as much as possible.

22. Always give the impression that Everything Is Under Control – but just barely so – hammer into the populace the idea that their greatest fear could strike at any moment.

23. Teach people that they are their thoughts and emotions. Reinforce this by teaching them to feel bad about their ideas, and to feel bad about feeling bad. Remember: Identify, identify, identify –- this will widen the empty void inside of them that only shopping can cure.

By sticking to these simple premises you should be able to produce entire societies capable of ending world hunger, but too selfish to care. You will be able to bring about massive consumer mindsets and buying habits so powerful that logic and reason become superfluous in making the sale. You will be the new face of media. Good luck!

Devon White specializes in PR for the brain, promoting integrity, responsibility and conscious evolution through online video and lecture-performances on sex.

As a trained hypnotist, video podcaster, writer and teacher, he supports broadcasting which goes beyond simple stimulus-response conditioning to engage the intentional, participatory and evolutionary functions of the brain. In other words – he thinks it’s really cool if you know how your brain works and use it to participate in the co-creation of your world. But he’s not a brain-centrist–he’s all about the body.

Concert tickets directly on your cell phone

Users of Telstra’s (Australia’s leading operator) high-speed Next G phone network will soon be able to download concert tickets and other content directly to their phones by scanning special barcodes on billboards and other advertisements.

The trial will let Next G customers download tickets, vouchers and maps as well as go directly to websites or view streaming video. All they need do is photograph a barcode, which can be on any surface - from billboards and computer screens to bottles and T-shirts.

The barcode scanning software can be downloaded across the phone network through an SMS request. Telstra expects it to be installed on 1 million phones within 12 months, according to consumer marketing director David Moffatt.

Mobile codes are already popular in Japan with consumers using i-nigma, a technology installed on more than 60 million phones and developed by Israeli company 3GVision. I-nigma is compatible with a range of mobiles and runs on Java, Symbian, BREW and Windows Mobile devices. I-nigma has been trialled in Australia since March by Melbourne based mobile marketing company QMCODES.

Mobile barcodes will makes advertising more interactive and let people act on impulse.

Rather than seeing an ad in magazine and having to remember it, now people will be able to just point their phone at it and act on that impulse straight away.

You could be flicking through a magazine and see an ad for the latest BMW. Now you can just take a picture with your phone and find out more information even book a test drive all in a few clicks.”

The technology also lets people create their own barcodes, linking to websites such as a Facebook or MySpace page, and will further drive the social networking boom.

You could put your own barcode anywhere, from a business card to a T-shirt.

In Japan, people use them to link to the MySpace or Facebook profiles, so when you meet someone you can scan their code and instantly add them to your list of online friends.

Sidhartha Bezbora

A new bathroom

There is a moment in your life when you decide that your environment has to be changed.
That is usually when you inherit or earn or win little bit of money and want to live in a better home.
That happens to me once in a while, with the difference that I feel the need also without inheritance or earning or winning.
I just feel better if I live in a more colored and comfortable house.
Besides, there are things that you HAVE to change once in a while for better efficiency, like windows or heating system or water appliances.
For example if you want to give a new look to your bathroom, you do not need to change tiles or other expensive thing.(I hate all what involves bricklayers).
Not that plumbers are much cheaper, but, at least they do not make noise and dust.
So what to change?
One thing that gives a dramatic look to your bathroom are the taps.
What about some Designer Taps?
Some with what they call "Minimalist" shape?
And the modern one have also the advantage to be easily kept clean and shining...
Another thing easy to change and not too expensive (if you buy it online and you know where to buy)is the bathroom furniture.
I personally love the traditional furniture, but with this you need another kind of taps.
If you have a small bathroom and a very modern house, one that would perfectly fit the "minimalist" taps is a glass Basin Furniture.
Simple, elegant and simply gorgeous.
A touch of class in an often neglected room...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It is still a men's world

Scanning the female orgasm Files under Health News | Leave a Comment Health 24 - Drug companies make millions a year selling Viagra, Cialis and Levitra to help men enjoy sex. Since more women suffer from sexual dysfunction than men, developing a apply it to women,” said Amy Allina, program director at the National Women’s Health Source: Herbal cure for erectile dysfunction - enough for satisfactory penetration during sexual Supplements work to enhance overall health and wellness of the body.


How can we get rid of technology addiction?

Technology constantly fails us, yet we rely constantly upon it. If we really want to be green, we need to use smart technology, start using bio-mimicry, and stop with this wasteful lifestyle. We need to start analyzing the effects of our technology on us an the environment. Now, what precipitated this though? Many small things, but the triggering was the destruction of my own hardware today…

My wireless mouse stopped working today. I switched the batteries, restarted the computer, and took it apart. It just won’t start working! I can’t seem to find any cheap wireless mice that are decent, I guess you really do get what you pay for, my wireless mouse + keyboard costing only 20$ total…Refurbished.

That, however, is not the only hardware failure in my life. My hard drive is starting to hum, I can only think that it is slowly dying, and quickly copied my digital pictures to another hard drive just in case… It is not surprising, however. My hard drive is used vigorously, it is constantly being used and abused. It looks like i will have to fork out another few hundred dollars, after I do some confirming tests.

This also makes me wonder, how much technology do we really need? Do I really need 2 telephones in my room?!? It is probably safer to use a non-portable phone anyways, right? Besides, I barely use the phone, and when I do, i either pace or sit on my bed. I think I am going to disconnect one phone and put it in my tech-bin, where I keep all my extras. Just one more step to help the environment and de-clutter my room.

This is all great and all, but I am still watching tv on my computer while I type this on my laptop in bed. I still have a ways to go.


The color of humankind...

Blending of all peoples together, or even proposing that it be done, is a mark of extreme hubris and human arrogance. And it's wrong; it would destroy real diversity, which, after all, exists ONLY because each race and ethnicity maintained separateness in which to develop distinctive characteristics. Take away that separateness and we will take away the diversity which the liberals pretend to value so much.

Vanishing American

It is strange that an American, representative of a race that is and was no race, because the mixture of many races,talks about losing identity, when losing traces of his race.
History unfolded differently on different continents because of differences among continental environments not because of biological differences among people.
At the end, it is an accepted truth that WE ALL have the same mother and father, being them Adam and Eve or however you want to call them...
I would talk about losing identity in a society where the ultimate goal is producing and investing money, where the human differences are reduced to the color of the skin or the "genetical behavior" which is not even genetical...
It is a good news that the colors are vanishing and mixing in one homogeneous color: the color of humankind

Easy to remove tattoo: would you or wouldn't you?

What if you could easily and painlessly remove an unwanted tattoo?
Tattoos, once the mark of prisoners, sailors, rockers and gang members, have become main stream in recent decades. Now you’re just as likely to see a tattoo on the ankle of a sorority girl as you are to find it across the back of a Hell’s Angel. And while more and more average Americans are getting tattoos there is still a taboo associated with the art form. Many people site the permanence of tattoos as the number one reason to give pause when considering getting inked. After all, can you imagine someday being a granny and sporting a SpongeBob tattoo; or a gramps with a skull and cross bones over your heart? Not so much.

But what if tattoos weren’t so permanent? What if they could be permanently removed with one easy laser treatment that was less painful and no more costly than getting the tattoo in the first place? Would you be more likely to have work done? What if you could get tattooed with a naturally fading semi-permanent ink with a skin-life of 6 months to 2 years? Would that seal the deal and get you under the needle? Freedom-2, Inc. is betting that it will! Late last year the company announced it had developed a special ink that would be easier to remove than traditional tattoo inks, requiring only one pass of an in development laser.

Freedom-2, Inc. claims their product is, “a safer alternative for those seeking to get a tattoo.” Stating that, “while conventional tattoo inks may contain toxic substances and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Freedom-2 ink is made with safe, biodegradable dyes.”
Last month the leading manufacturer of laser technology in the world, announced it had secured a deal with Freedom-2, Inc. to develop and manufacture a laser designed to work in tandem with the new ink. Freedom-2 announced that their safer bio-degradable ink would be made available to tattoo parlors nationwide. The ink would be no more expensive for tattoo artists to buy than traditional tattoo ink, although it isn’t available in as many colors. The special laser for removing the tattoos is being marketed as similar in price to tattoo erasing lasers currently on the market only it boasts more reliable removal with much better results. The company has also announced that it is developing a semi-permanent timed-fading ink that it hopes to have on the market within the next few years. So now the permanency objection to tattooing seems a thing of the past, or is it?

Whether or not this special ink will turn up in your local tattoo parlor remains to be seen but one thing is certain, if it takes hold it stands to revolutionize the industry. Will it make you more likely to turn your body in to a canvas? Let us know.

Mike Hardcastle