Categories
Science Series Space

The Importance of the Moon

Earth's natural satellite - the moonThe Moon is something many of us take for granted. It doesn’t really do that much, it just sits up their in space.

When someone talks about the Moon what springs to mind? Werewolves? Cheese? Wallace and Gromit?

Maybe you think of Apollo 11 in 1969 and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the Moon.

I watched a very interesting BBC documentary recently called Do We Really Need the Moon? It explored how important the Moon has been to the development of life on Earth, and how important it may become in the future of space travel.

The Moon is likely to have been critical to the creation of life on Earth. It is believed that the Moon was formed when another planet crashed into Earth. At this point, the Earth was an uninhabitable, unstable lava wasteland. The collision created millions of pieces of molten rock which were sent into orbit. The biggest of these chunks of liquid rock grouped together (thanks to our old friend gravity) to form a new structure. Eventually all the pieces either became a part of the Moon, joined onto the Earth, or were flung off into space.

This massive collision reset Earth’s chemistry. Over the next 7 million years, it is thought that the Earth cooled, and water vapour condensed to form oceans. Oceans which the Moon controlled. The water nearest the Moon is affected by its gravitational pull more. This means that water recedes in other areas, amassing in the part of the ocean that is closest to the Moon. This is what creates the tides we know today, the same tides that are thought to have helped to create life – around 4 billion years ago.

Moon's gravity pulling the Earth
A picture from the BBC documentary Do We Really Need the Moon? showing how the Moon’s gravity pulls the oceans of the world towards it – creating tides.

So the Moon helped to create life, but that’s not all, it also helps to maintain it. The distance the Moon is away from the Earth, means that the tides are not too extreme. If the Moon were 20 times close than it is today then the Moon’s gravity would be 400 times stronger than it is today. This would create a huge tidal surge that would completely submerge all major cities around the world. At night, London would be underwater, and then a few hours later the waters would recede and flood New York. Evolution would not be able to adapt to changes that happened this quickly, and life on Earth would not exist.

The Moon also protects us in another way. Here is an image of the nearside of the Moon – the side we always see.

The nearside of the MoonNow here is an image of the farside, also known as the dark side of the Moon.

The farside of the MoonNotice a difference?

The farside is covered in a mass of craters, whilst the nearside is largely unscathed. Every crater on the farside of the Moon is a potential impact that the Moon has prevented for the Earth. Imagine that all meteoroids in space are chunks of iron, and the Moon is a giant magnet. The Moon pulls a lot of this space debris towards it.

Inevitably some meteoroids will collide with Earth, however the Moon does a pretty good job of shielding our planet from a lot of dangerous impacts.

We are pretty lucky really, if the Moon were much closer, or bigger, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Likewise, if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.

So next time you see the Moon, spare a thought for how integral it is to life on Earth.

That’s Not It!

Enjoyed this article? Feeling like you want a bit more Moon stuff? Next week I continue to look at the Moon, this time from the perspective of space travel!

Categories
Business

Amazon – destruction and revival

Amazon's LogoAmazon. A great big, greedy multinational company. Destroying countless companies and even eradicating whole industries in a matter of years.

France has recently taken measures to protect book shops, as it understands the devastating impact Amazon’s operations can have on a country. Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s founder) argues that “Amazon is not happening to book selling, the future is happening to book selling” suggesting that people want to buy books online now, and that virtual books would be rising in popularity without Amazon’s help.

In the UK, Amazon have come under scrutiny for not paying their fair share of tax.

BBC research suggests that the way in which Amazon treat their employees, means that their employees face a higher risk of mental illness.

There are numerous other scandals surrounding this online retail giant, but is it all bad? Believe it or not, Amazon is also proving a critical element in the survival of some industries and communities.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail and AmazonThe Royal Mail has had a turbulent decade. The internet has started to reduce the number of letters sent. Why pay to send a letter when you can send an email for free? Why fill your house with bank statements and insurance documents, when you can now access them all online? There are of course reasons why you might want to send a letter or receive a hard copy of something, however ultimately, the rise of the internet has significantly impacted the demand for postal services.

Amazon has actually played a critical role in the success of Royal Mail over the last few years. Yes if someone shops online, shops loose out on purchases, however online orders have to be delivered somehow, and the organisation with by far the biggest distribution network in the UK, is the Royal Mail. As a result, Amazon currently work closely with Royal Mail and provide the organisation with a massive amount of business.

So am I saying Amazon is actually good for Royal Mail? Well until Amazon opens up its own distribution network, and fills the skies with drones, yes, I think it is.

Rural Communities

Remote communities are often cut off from the rest of society in many ways. They often have very few local shops, which do not stock a wide range of goods, meaning local residents often have to travel miles to shop, or just go without. If you want to buy a new radio alarm clock (costing £20) do you take a 30 mile round trip to the nearest town to buy it, or do you order it on Amazon – probably for £15 – and have it delivered to your door the next day?

Without Amazon (and other online retailers) such communities would be cut off, leading to people either having to leave, or them feeling isolated and outdated.

Small Retailers

Like eBay, Amazon lets anyone buy and sell their goods through the site. Customers have the assurance that they will get good customer service, and if something goes wrong, Amazon will deal with the problem.

Many individuals now make a living from selling goods through Amazon. Some manufacturers sell directly through Amazon. Some people buy goods somewhere else and then sell them on Amazon for a profit. So Amazon is creating more jobs than just those who work for the company.

Authors

Amazing, J.K. Rowling struggled to get the first book of her Harry Potter series published. She was turned down several times, before she eventually managed to persuade Bloomsbury to publish her book. Amazon lets anyone publish a book. Nobody reviews it to see if it is any good, it just gets ran through a copyright checker, which determines whether it is original or not, and therefore how much of any profits the author is able to take home.

Our in-house expert on this is Mr Hankins, so if you want any more info, check out his article on the book he wrote and published on Amazon, and feel free to ask him question there.

Are Amazon another Google? Do they want to own everything, and destroy all their competition. Probably yes. But need everything they do be negative? No, almost everything they do will have some good related to it.

Categories
Business Internet

What have you agreed to?

Padlocked gateImage Credit

Whilst reading Animal Farm in school, my English teacher at the time had a reasonably poor memory, and as a result we would reread chapters several times, and we never actually finished the book. I did however get to see a (very impressive one-man) theatre production of the book, and I have seen the 1999 film – who’s idea was it to have a happy ending!

Anyway… today, in a BBC article it is reported that according to Fairer Finance, many car insurance policy documents are longer than George Orwell’s Animal Farm. One of the longest of the documents they found was Danske Bank’s terms and conditions which  contained almost 70,000 words – that’s more words than Animal Farm put together with Of Mice and Men – which was incidentally another book I read at school.

Of UK financial services companies, HSBC came in top with 34,162 words, whilst LV was the lowest with 6,901 – 27,261 fewer words.

Why?

For financial institutions legal jargon is important. Terms and conditions provide organisations with legal protection and are in some ways a measure of credibility and assurance – would you place trust in a bank which didn’t have any terms and conditions? I understand that they are important, but why do they need to be so long and full of technical jargon?

Do you think companies are aiming to dissuade people from reading their terms by making them so long-winded? If so, what could a business put in its terms? Could a social media site claim ownership of your face? Don’t be silly.

Do long, wordy terms of service not discriminate against slower readers, and people who have a life? Sometimes I struggle to keep up with my university reading, so how/why on earth am I expected to read a novel length script of jargon each time I open a current account?

Help is out there!

Facebook, Google and Twitter are no angels either, many websites also have ridiculously long terms of service. There is however consumer help for judging these sites, thanks to Terms of Service Didn’t Read. I use their browser extension for Firefox, and it is helpful.

YouTube tosdr
YouTube is rated D by Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

Fairer Finance have started a petition to try and bring down the small print and force organisations to be more concise and consumer friendly. Visit the campaign page and you can also send them any examples you have of annoyingly pointless small print.

Categories
Blogging

404 pages can be fun

The value of a good 404 page is often underrated and with so much competition on the web, it’s important to ensure that your 404 page stands out from the rest.

Many users are unsure of the purpose or role of a 404 page and are likely, when coming across one, to leave the site. In order to protect yourself there are some steps you can take against this.

What are 404 pages

A 404 page is what a user sees when a page on a website it not available because the requested page could not be found on the server of the website they are looking at. This could be because the page they are looking at has been removed, or because they typed the URL wrong.

Be helpful

Rather than assuming the your visitor understands the issue and knows how to resolve the problem, give them plenty of options to use to help navigate to the page they need. Ideas include a search bar, home page link and links to other popular articles on the website, they will have plenty of options for continuing across your website.

Be funny

Many websites choose to add a bit of humour to their 404 pages. This can help to manage a situation that could otherwise be annoying for visitors. Jokes in reference to the error will usually be successful as it shows that the website acknowledges the hassle and is attempting to compensate for it.

Stay on-brand

It’s too easy to create a generic 404 page, but they can be used as a fantastic opportunity to re-establish your brand and voice. Using the colours and fonts most closely associated with the company will reassure those customers are confused, while also keeping them on track with the company message.

Here are some examples of interesting 404 pages.

BBC 404 page
The BBC’s 404 page

The BBC offer an iconic image and some useful suggestions.

Virgin's 404 page
Virgin Travel‘s 404 page

Virgin doesn’t let 404’s get in the way of businesses, its 404 pages let customers search for cruise holidays!

Technology Bloggers 404
Technology Bloggers’ 404 page

Technology Bloggers 404 page shows a HTML hole (it’s just an image!) and gives some helpful suggestions.

Categories
Internet Technology

Fighting spam and recapturing books with reCAPTCHA

A CAPTCHA is an anti-spam test used to work out whether a request has been made by a human, or a spambot. CAPTCHAs no longer seem to be as popular as they once were, as other spam identification techniques have emerged, however a considerable number of websites still use them.

CAPTCHA pictures
Some common examples of CAPTCHAs.

CAPTCHAs can be really annoying, hence their downfall in recent years. Take a look at the different CAPTCHAs in the image above, if you had spent 30 seconds filling in a feedback form, would you be willing to try and decipher one of the above CAPTCHAs, or would you just abandon the feedback?

The top left image could be ZYPEB, however it could just as easily be 2tPF8. If you get it wrong, usually you will be forced to do another, which could be just as difficult.

The BBC recently reported how The National Federation for the Blind has criticised CAPTCHAs, due to their restrictive nature for the visually impaired. Many CAPTCHAs do offer an auditory version, however if you check out the BBC article (which has an example of an auditory CAPTCHA), you will see that they are near impossible to understand.

reCAPTCHA

Luis von Ahn is a computer scientist who was instrumental in developing the CAPTCHA back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. According to an article the Canadian magazine The Walrus, when CAPTCHAs started to become popular, Luis von Ahn “realized that he had unwittingly created a system that was frittering away, in ten-second increments, millions of hours of a most precious resource: human brain cycles.

Anti-spam reCAPTCHA
An example of a reCAPTCHA CAPTCHA.

In order to try and ensure that this time was not wasted, von Ahn set about developing a way to better utilise this time; it was at this point that reCAPTCHA was born.

reCAPTCHA is different to most CAPTCHAs because it uses two words. One word is generated by a computer, whilst the other is taken from an old book, journal, or newspaper article.

Recapturing Literature

As I mentioned, reCAPTCHA shows you two words. One of the images is to prevent spam, and confirm the accuracy of your reading; you must get this one right, or you will be presented with another. The other image is designed to help piece together text from old literature, so that books, newspapers and journals can be digitised.

reCAPTCHA presents the same word to a variety of users and then uses the average response to work out what the word actually says – this helps to stop abuse. In a 2007 quality test, using a standard computer text reader, (also known as OCR) 83.5% of words were identified correctly – a reasonably high amount – however the accuracy of human interpretation via reCAPTCHA was an astonishing 99.1%!

According to an entry in the journal Science, in 2007 reCAPTCHA was present on over 40,000 websites, and users had interpreted over 440 million words! Google claim that today around 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved each day.

If each CAPTCHA took 10 seconds to solve, that would have been around 139 years (or 4.4 billion seconds) of brain time wasted; I am starting to see what Mr von Ahn meant! To put the 440 million words into perspective, the complete works of Shakespeare is around 900,000 words – or 0.9 million.

Whilst the progress of reCAPTCHA seems pretty impressive, it is a tiny step on the path to total digitisation. According to this BBC article, at the time von Ahn is quoted saying:

“There’s still about 100 million books to be digitised, which at the current rate will take us about 400 years to complete”

Google

In 2009 Google acquired reCAPTCHA. The search giant claimed that it wanted to “teach computers to read” hence the acquisition.

Many speculate that Google‘s ultimate aim is to index the world, and reCAPTCHA will help it to accelerate this process. That said, if that is its goal, it is still a very long way off.

We won’t be implementing a CAPTCHA on Technology Bloggers any time soon, however next time you have to fill one in, do spare a thought for the [free] work you might be doing for literature, for history and for Google.

Categories
Computers Fun

Vintage Computers For Sale

Buoyed by the sale of one of the first and few remaining Apple 1 computers for $650,000 I started thinking about the old machines that were lying in my mum’s garage and wondering if I was sitting on a fortune.

Although I myself was never interested in computers my younger brother was a guru, going on to study computing at University, so we have a real vintage lot just awaiting discovery.

The first Hankins computer was a 1981 Sinclair ZX81. What a machine that was. It was manufactured by the famous watch maker Timex in Scotland, and really represents the movement from mechanical to digital technology. I remember recording programs onto a cassette recorder that were broadcast over the radio as a series of sounds similar to the noise a fax makes. Then you play them into the machine and bang you are off, you could use your 1kB of memory to do almost anything (or nothing).

A Sinclair ZX81
A Sinclair ZX81

The keys were part of the machine, like an old cash register, and it is through these that my brother learned the skills of programming in Basic, although I never got to grips with it. Then he moved on to Extended Basic and machine code (whatever that is).

Anyway it will not make me rich, they go from about $2 to $20 on eBay.

But even 1 kB of memory was not enough for us so a couple of years later we (my parents) invested in what was in its day the height of technology, a TI99. This was altogether greatly improved, it had a cartridge system in the front so you could slide in games and use the cursors to maneuver through the asteroid fields.

The TI99 was manufactured by calculator maker Texas Instruments and was the first computer with a 16 bit processor. Texas Instruments were big on voice synthesis and the big use of it for us was during the game Parsec. With 16kB of memory we had moved on considerably, and my brother made the most of learning Extended Basic using their wonderful program.

A TI99 Home Computer
A TI99 Home Computer

Just look at the lines on this beast, a design classic it sold almost 3 million units and with 68 by 48 pixels in colour the picture was a joy to behold when plugged into our TV.

It was high finance though for our family, it cost more than $500 US when newly released but as with all of these things the price fell over the following years to $150, and so the question arises again, am I rich today?

The answer unfortunately is no, you can buy one on eBay for about $20. Could be a great investment though, they have one in a museum in Paris.

Well a couple of years passed and my brother needed a serious computer to take to University. At great expense my parents went for the BBC Microcomputer built by Acorn. This was much more of an educational tool, and its release was followed by a BBC educational series that taught its user (my brother and unfortunately not me) to program, and it was the machine of choice for UK universities and schools.

Our model B had 128 kB of memory, a giant leap that allowed graphics programing and increased complexity of use. It also had a floppy disc for ease of data transferral. It was a beast of a thing though as it sat in my brother’s bedroom, and it is the most expensive machine in the house to date.

A BBC Acorn Computer
A BBC Acorn Computer

Oh how I could pay my mum back if it were now worth the same as the first Apple I thought, but once more eBay broke the spell. From $10 to $150 with all the extra hard and software, so sorry mum the Austin Martin will have to wait.

After University (and post BBC) my brother went to work and we moved into company machinery, laptops, blueberry, blackberry, apples and other fruits of commerce, and I lost touch a bit, but I alone have owned 3 desktops and 3 laptops to date and it is all awaiting disposal, so there certainly isn’t much room in my mum’s garage today (certainly not enough for an Aston Martin anyway).

Categories
Environment News Science

Turning Human Waste into Plastic

One of the unsung heroes and villains of modern life is human waste, or poo as we like to call it. It is like death and taxes in that well known phrase about certainty, there is an awful lot of it around, and it is full or carbon.

A few years ago there was uproar when we discovered that farmers were using human waste to make their plants grow faster, a practice that like many of life’s more unsavoury issues has remained largely out of the public gaze for years. But what do we do with all of this waste? We can just pump it out into the sea, or dump it in landfill sites as is common in the USA, although these don’t really seem like great solutions to me. Good news is on the horizon though, a company in California has started to use it to make plastic, taking some out of the dumping category and making use of the carbon.

Admittedly we have the old gag reflex again. A plate of carrots grown with the aid of human waste to go with your minced beef with horse trace pie with a plastic bottle made out of human sewage full of fresh, crystal clear mountain water to wash it all down. But just think about the potential.

Waste Not.
Make Use of Human Waste

Plastic can be produced using human waste, bottles can be made from it, and it is biodegradable, so why not? This BBC video tells the story of an experimental bio-plastics lab called Micromidas, where this process is being experimented and researched, and where human waste is already being turned into plastic.

The process involves making a kind of nutrient soup from the waste to which bacteria is added. They produce something called PHA, a type of polyester. They feed on the waste and take up the carbon and turn it into this form of plastic. Then the plastic containing parts are separated and cleaned.

The material is then dried, the plastic extracted and made into pellets. It can then be used to make practically anything that we currently make using fossil fuel based plastic. There is after all no shortage of raw materials, so proponents hope to replace the old fossil fuel production with the new.

The process is very much in experimental stage, but the researchers hope to be able to produce on mass within the next 2 to 3 years, bringing the price down so that it can compete in a global market. Good for everyone, and the environment.

Just as a slightly less obnoxious adjunct I would like to add that Micromidas are also setting up a lab that is working on turning cardboard into Paraxylene, a chemical once more used to make plastic bottles, again in the hope of getting into and cutting out the fossil fuel market (usually Paraxylene comes from oil). Read this report about their work.

Categories
Internet Media News

Freedom of Information or Criminals?

In this post I would like to tell the stories of two young gentlemen, Aaran Swartz and Bradley Manning.

Many of you will know these names. Aaron is unfortunately all over the web this week due to his recent suicide, and here in Boston there is a lot of soul searching going on.

Aaron Swarz
Aaron Swartz

Aaron started young, at the age of 14 he was part of a working group that developed the RSS system. He was co-owner of Reddit, having been owner of Infogami, a company that merged to form the Reddit that we know today. He was most importantly an online activist, fighting for open access and against the Stop Online Piracy Act.

His activism got him into trouble with the police however. In the first instance he was investigated for publishing documents managed by the Administrative Office of the US Courts. These were public documents but the administrative office charged per page for individuals to see them. Aaron did not believe that this was fair so decided to take the chosen course of action. After an investigation he was not charged however, so no case was ever brought.

His second brush with the law went rather differently however. In 2011 he was arrested and charged (amongst other things) with fraud and unlawfully taking information from a computer. He had allegedly walked into the MIT library, attached his laptop to the system and downloaded 4 million academic articles.

His complaint was that the database holding the articles (JSTOR) were unfairly paying royalties to article publishers and not authors, and in doing so and charging for their service they were restricting public access. JSTOR did not push for charges and made no complaint, but Massachusetts Attorneys did, stating that “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars”.

The charges carried a possible prison term of 35 years and a 1 million dollar fine.

After Aaron’s death his family criticized both MIT for not behaving responsibly when the activity was discovered and the US attorneys for disproportionately pursuing criminal charges. Some people argue that the problem lies in the law however, because it does not differentiate between taking things for profit and for other reasons. In effect stealing money from the bank is the same as stealing articles, even if the aim of stealing the articles is not to make money from the crime.

The BBC has a collection of messages from many of the best known architects of the cyber world and they really demonstrate the great esteem that the entire community held for Aaron. We do not know and will never know why he chose to take his own life, nor if the possible 35 years in prison played on his mind and pushed him into it, but as I stated at the beginning there is a lot of soul searching here about how the entire event was handled.

To Bradley Manning. Bradley is another young man who got on the wrong side of the authorities. He is a soldier who worked in intelligence, not high ranking but with access to a certain amount of low level classified data. He was arrested in Iraq in 2010 on suspicion of passing data to Wikileaks and is currently in a military prison awaiting trial.

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning

Before his arrest Bradley was possibly not in the best frame of mind. Life in Iraq is not easy, he was taunted for his presumed homosexuality and self acknowledged gender difficulties and had outbursts of anger and self reclusion. He was not transferred though, nor his access to classified information revoked.

At some point Manning allegedly forwarded what were later to be known as the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War logs to Wikileaks, a crime that prosecutors say he admitted to in online chats.

He was charged with Aiding the enemy, a crime that carries the death penalty, although prosecutors have stated that they would only ask for life in prison without parole. An offer was made for a guilty plea in return for 16 years in prison but Manning maintained his not guilty stance.

Once again Manning’s presumed crime was not committed for profit but in order to give the public information that he believed they had a right to. The most known of all of the materials is the killing of the 2 Reuters journalists by a US helicopter crew, a sickening thing to watch.

Manning was very unhappy about the type of war he saw and felt that the general public needed to see what he had seen, and referring to the helicopter killing video said something in one of his chats that I believe expresses his motivation; “well what would you have done if you had seen it?”

Categories
Fun Internet News

YouTube’s most watched UK videos of 2012

As there are now just a few days left in 2012, this is going to be another fun/festive post 🙂

Last year I explored YouTube’s most popular 10 videos in the UK for 2011, and it turned out to be an enjoyable post to write, (and hopefully also to read/watch) so I thought I would do the same again this year!

In the UK, the 10th most popular video was the BBC video posted as part of their coverage of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which featured James Bond escorting the Queen to the games. The video is entitled James Bond escorts The Queen to the opening ceremony and is a must see – hence why it is below 🙂

%CODEYOUTUBEMOSTWATCHED2012JBQ%

In 9th place, is the The Nick Clegg Apology Song, as created by The Poke. Mr Clegg (leader of the Liberal Democrat party) made a political party broadcast in September of this year, apologising for breaking his promise about not raising university tuition fees. The Poke then used Autotune along with some video editing, to make a very funny apology song out of Mr Cleggs speech.

%CODEYOUTUBEMOSTWATCHED2012NCAS%

Pop/Opera duo Charlotte & Jonathan, came in an impressive 8th place, with their video which has received over  25 million views since March this year. The video is a recording of their performance on the TV show, Britain’s Got Talent, a show which they untimely finished second. Check out their video here.

The 7th most popular video in the UK this year was Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space. Felix broke world records as he jumped from over 24 miles above the earth, landing safely after a reaching a maximum speed of 833 miles per hour!

6th place was taken by the fantastic market trader who had a ‘£1 Fish’ song. Songs seem to be doing pretty well this year in terms of trending on YouTube! The camera man asks the market trader to “Do your fish song for me…” and the trader starts a fantastic song in order to try to sell his stock. Again, this is a must see 🙂

There is also a remix done by The Poke (the same people who made the Nick Clegg apology song) which is also worth a watch.

%CODEYOUTUBEMOSTWATCHED2012OPFS%

asdfmovie4 was 7th on the list last year, and the next edition of the comedy animation was sure to be a hit too, which it was with asdfmovie5 taking 5th place on the 2012 list.

4th place was claimed by Lucy Spraggan’s audition on the X Factor. She sung a song she had written called Last Night, which the audience loved, and became an instant hit!

A cover of the song Somebody That I Used to Know took the bronze medal position, coming in third. The band Walk off the Earth did a cover of the Gotye song, which involved all five of the band members using the same guitar to play the song. It was very clever and a pretty good song, hence why it was a major hit.

KONY 2012, a video by a US activist group about the use of child soldiers took third place. The video is almost 30 minutes long, which is pretty impressive considering how popular it proved. Its popularity was probably due to the emotional impact it had on people.

Now for the big one, the video that was top of the UK list and top of the global list. The video which is now the most watched video on the internet. The video which became popular in the shortest amount of time. The video which had spread around the world in just a few weeks. That video is Gangnam Style. If you haven’t seen it, or heard it, you are among a select few! Earlier this month, the video by Korean artist Psy, made YouTube history, topping 1 billion views! The video has been rated millions of times, with over 6 million likes, and around half a million dislikes.

So that’s it, the 10 most popular YouTube videos of 2012. In memory of the great videos that have trended this year, YouTube have put together a fantastic compilation video, which includes references to loads of the websites popular videos this year, or as YouTube put it: “We invited some YouTubers to star in a mash-up of culturally defining moments of 2012. Can you spot all the references?”

If you have seen all of the above videos, it is great fun to watch this YouTube 2012 mash up.

%CODEYOUTUBEMOSTWATCHED2012RYTS%

Global Top Ten

If you are interested, here is the global top 10 trending videos of 2012:
YouTube's Logo

  1. Gangnam Style
  2. Walk Off the Earth
  3. Kony 2012
  4. Call Me Maybe
  5. Obama v Romney epic rap battle
  6. A dramatic surprise on a quiet square
  7. Why you asking all them questions?
  8. Dubstep Violin
  9. Facebook parenting
  10. Freefall from the Edge of Space

What was your favourite video of 2012, and which video(s) do you feel had a major global impact?

Categories
Charity Media News Social Media

The power of the social networks and the media

Many people take a very negative view of the media. In the UK, there has recently been a press standards enquiry, which looked into the unethical practices some media organisations (specifically newspapers) were using.

Many people also take a negative view of social networks. Twitter has been in the firing line a lot lately, helping to break super injunctions and spread rumours at amazing speed.

I think sometimes we forget that the press and social media can also be a force for good, and so in this article I am going to talk about something positive that only happened thanks to the power of the media and social networks.

The Story

Martha Payne is a nine-year-old girl from Argyll and Bute, (Scotland) who started a blog in May this year called NeverSeconds. On the blog she wrote about her school dinners, under the alias of Veg. She took a camera into school and photographed her school dinner. When she got home, she wrote about it, posted a picture, and then rated each meal.

She gave the food a rating out of ten on her ‘Food-o-meter‘ scale, detailed how many mouthfuls it took her to eat it, what courses it was (i.e. starter and main or main and dessert), how healthy (out of ten) she rated it, the price, and how many pieces of hair she found on it – and yes, one day she did find one!

Martha Payne's first blog
Martha’s first image on her blog – pizza, croquet, sweetcorn and a cake, a meal she rated 6/10 on her food-o-meter

Martha set up a link on her blog to the charity Mary’s Meals, with the aim of raising £7,000 for the charity, through donations from those who read her posts.

All was going well for Martha, until her blog featured in a local newspaper. Here’s what happened in Martha’s words:

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.

Goodbye,
VEG”

So that was it. Martha Payne, a nine-year-old girl who ran a blog with the aim of raising some money for charity, and developing her language skills through writing about her school dinners, was no longer allowed to blog.

It was actually the local council that had told the school to ban Martha from posting, as they were unhappy with the coverage of the story in the local paper. It was alleged that the article had made catering staff fearful for their jobs.

The publicity generated from the local paper reporting on the blog helped Martha to reach nearly £2,000 in donations for Mary’s Meals, an amazing achievement, which is why it is such a shame that the blog had to be shut down.

A sad end to the blogging career of a little girl with good intentions.

But it didn’t end there.

The news reached the council leader who was unhappy with the action taken, and as a result instructed senior officials to lift the ban.

Martha could blog again!

This was now a big story, and national media organisations were keen to publish their account of events. The Telegraph, The Guardian and BBC news were some of the most notable media organisations to cover the story. Most notable, the BBC article received well over 1,000 comments, and tens of thousands of social shares!

Going Viral

Martha Payne from NeverSeconds
Martha Payne – NeverSeconds Author

First it was just a story. Then it hit the media. Now it was the turn of Facebook and Twitter. Within hours of the BBC publishing their article, tens of thousands of people had shared it, and the NeverSeconds blog hit counter soared from a few thousand views to over a million! Martha was soon trending on Twitter.

The story was so inspirational, many people wanted to pay tribute to Martha’s fantastic work, and did so by donating to the charity she supported – Mary’s Meals. Martha smashed her £7,000 target in a matter of hours, as donations to the charity flooded in. Overnight, Martha became the top fund raiser for Mary’s Meals on the JustGiving website.

By the end of the week, (in just 4 days) donations had topped £50,000! This prompted even more publicity, as the media reported on the remarkable story of the girl who raised tens of thousands for charity, by writing about her school meals.

The NeverSeconds site hit counter now reads in excess of eight million and the donations to Mary’s Meals are over 1750% of Martha’s £7,000 target – currently standing at £123,969.32.

Martha has since been out to Malawi to see one of the projects her fund raising efforts went to help. For more information on her trip, have a read of this BBC news article.

Martha has been named as the Human Rights Young Person of the Year, for her outstanding work, and continues to blog over at NeverSeconds to this day.

The Streisand Effect

This story is a fantastic example of how the media and social networking can be a force for good, and encourage people to think of others. It is also a good example of the Streisand effect in action, the concept whereby attempting to cover something up, thanks to the internet, leads to that very thing getting greater publicity.

Smile today for the story of NeverSeconds 🙂