Red Balloon Challenge from DARPA

DARPA – the advanced technology research wing of the US Military – is always coming up with the most fun research and today’s Red Balloon social media experiment is no exception to that rule.

Ten huge red weather balloons were launched this morning at 10am EST and DARPA will pay 40,000 to the first team or person that can identify all the balloons by number and latitude / longitude.

Now, in my view as a social media expert (aka a web surfer), DARPA’s payout of 40,000 is distorting the experiment in a confusing way, encouraging secretiveness and deception rather than cooperation.    That may be intentional, but I think they wanted people to “really try” and wrongly felt this was the best way to do it.    All of the serious efforts I’ve seen so far are actually  *discouraging* people from using the power of social media to find the balloons, instead asking them to email or phone in sightings and then in some cases share in the proceeds, in other cases promising to give them to charity.

DARPA should consider repeating this experiment as a TWITTER crowdsource where there is NO money offered and each report is posted at Twitter where the crowd can sort the fakes from the real data.    I think that task would likely only take minutes rather than the hours the current project appears to need to get a complete result from the secretive teams.

Here are more stories  about the DARPA Red Balloons:

Wall Street Journal: Spot 10 Balloons, Win $40,000

Gizmodo:  DARPA’s Giant Red Balloons Officially at Large

Internet News Flash: STOP forwarding all those emails with “humor” or “wisdom” to your friends. They are talking about how you do this, and it’s not flattering.

OK, this just in from my Holiday Bad Mood Department:

STOP forwarding all those emails with “humor” or “wisdom” or stupid pictures to your friends!     Instead, send them a REAL note with REAL information.   No, they do NOT want all that other crap, OK?!

Exceptions:  1.   You have added at least ONE original paragraph (heck, even TWO sentences is OK with me!) explaining why you think others might find this of interest.   I’m cool with that.   It means you are not just abusing the ease with which you can forward on stuff you find marginally interesting that others rarealy want to wade through.

2.  My pal Tommo, who only does this about once every two or three months.   I know he’s filtering because he sends so few.

3.  OK to write a short note and link up stuff at Facebook or Twitter.   That’s easier than email to bypass, does not clog up the internet with cat pictures you sent to the 50 unlucky people still on your email list, and it forces YOU to  pay at least marginal attention.

OK, I know it’s annoying to shout online as I have in the title above, but I simply don’t understand why people seem to think that the little tidbits of wisdom – aka spammy junk – they happen to find to be funny or inspiring is  going to be inspiring to me as well.

Generally it’s NOT, and I don’t think I can think of a single exception where folks say “wow, I’m so glad I’m on —– ‘s   email list, that stuff is always so inspiring to me.     I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I’d urge anybody who actually reads all the forwarded junk they get to *get a fricking life, and FAST*.

[/ end rant]

Comments are welcome as always.

Have a Merry Microloan Christmas

This year I won’t be giving out more than a few tiny token presents to my friends and family, but I will be giving some of the best gifts I have ever given.   The Nobel prize winning efforts of the Grameen Bank have sponsored the poor with small loans to start businesses, and this tactic has proven to be one of the most effective poverty-fighting measures ever developed.

I hope you’ll consider gifts to Grameen or other charities as part of your happy holidays as well.     Grameen’s founder started the project with $27 business loans to poor businesses in India.      These were interest loans but historically have had a nearly 100% repayment rate.    The spectacular success of Grameen has also inspired other charities to approach development with more of an eye to entrepreneurship and small business and less of the “top down” mega project bureaucracies that have run into many problems as locals resisted them.     Small Business, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship is near and dear to the heart of many in the USA and I hope you’ll join me  in supporting Grameen with some green this Christmas.

Think about it –  $27 loans that often will positively reshape the lives of  entire families from this point forward.

More about Grameen.   If you are feeling *sassy*, you also might want to click to the right on the Grameen logo and donate via the Grameen page I just set up for a Christmas Campaign.     Frankly, if I was presented to this by anybody but a  friend I’d be a little concerned that the money would wind up at Grameen – they use a URL that is not easily recognizable as secure and connected to them.    But don’t let that deter you – just give at the Grameen Website in that case.

Twitter Outage ? Twitter down? Twitter Problems? ” Something is Technically Wrong ” message ?

Is it just me or has Twitter been down for several minutes now?   OMG Twitter is down, twitter is down!     In the early days Twitter’s uptime challenges seemed more commonplace.

Part of this post is just an SEO experiment to see if these common Twitter queries fetch some traffic, so to make this a *helpful* experiment I’m soon going to add a bunch of good resources for Twitter in general and for Twitter Troubleshooting:

Twitter Status (appears to be independent of the current problem as this is working for me while remains with an error message “something is technically wrong”)

Blogging Obama’s War

CNN’s got a promising new effort to involve people in what is likely to become one of the two key discussion points over the next 3 years:  The growing US War in Afghanistan (the other is obviously the US / Global economy)     Here’s the Afghanistan war blog

In my view it is very hard to comment wisely about details and policy without a lot more of the “secret” military information – threat assessments, probabilities, estimates of deaths.    Without this it is simply not reasonable to attempt to evaluate the complex international military strategies of Obama or any president.

If, for example, there is good reason to believe that the terrorists have a good chance of destabilizing Pakistan and taking over intercontinental nuclear missles the stakes are very high indeed.   If that is extremely unlikely it changes the game considerably.

It is odd to me how people who argued Obama was “a communist / marxist”   refuse to grasp the obvious reality of his moderate policies.   Few Marxists or far left folks (outside of China! 😆 )  supported Obama.  They will call this a simple extension of US imperialistic power.   For many moderates the hypocrisy is also glaring.     They called Bush was a “war monger” but now seem very comfortable with Obama’s very similar military directions.    I’ve spoken about this with several who remain generally supportive of the President’s international efforts.   It is as if they are more interested in how we talk about war than how we prosecute these wars.

Lost in the details of the military aspects of the strategies is the calculation that addresses the single most important concern – do the benefits of US security and help to the Afghans outweigh the losses they and we will endure over the next three years?

I can’t second guess our leaders on this, but I’d sure like to see the numbers.     Like others I’m waiting anxiously to hear the president’s speech tonight but I doubt it will shed much light on how many people will die, even though these estimates are a critical part of the strategic process at the Pentagon.

Although I believe you can make a case for war in some cases, it’s absolutely immoral to fail to adequately determine if the benefits outweigh the massive human costs.     I know Obama tried to do this, but he should tell us what went into the calculations.    These are not simple calculations, but contrary to what many assert you *must” place values on lives whenever deaths are going to happen.    Do you try to do this directly (with numbers and specific assumptions) or indirectly with vague or general assertions and assumptions.    The government will maintain the pretense of thoughtfulness even when indirect and vague policies are driving things forward.

Governments often do many types of comparisons that shed a lot of light on how to move forward.      Transportation and Environmental agencies do this type of thing all the time when deciding how much to spend on safety / health / etc.   In those calculations lives in the USA are each worth about two to five million dollars.    It’s about time we started publishing a lot more information about the rationale for these numbers, and publishing the military rationale for the massive numbers of civilian casualties in our wars.    People don’t like to know their life has a very finite value to agencies of the  government (as it should by the way), but as we move into the challenges we’ll face from countries where lives are effectively valued by their leaders and governments  in  “hundreds of dollars” rather than “millions of dollars” as here in the USA.