Reforestation, Google Earth Style

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Here’s a very cool way to mix technology and environmental stuff, via the Google Earth Blog. (Interest declared: It’s part of the NEWtrees project, the brainchild of my publisher and friend Mark Hanusz):

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offers you the opportunity to buy a tree which will be planted in a rainforest in Sebangau National Forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. In return, they not only plant the tree, but give you a Google Earth KML file in return with the location coordinates of your tree. Theoretically, as Google continues to update with higher resolution satellite and aerial imagery, you should be able to watch the growth of your tree (and the others who donate trees) over the coming years. To get started, you simply go to the web site mybabytree.org. They have a very cute animation that will guide you through the process, and you can use Paypal to make your donation. You can see the location and list of trees purchased so far here . Borneo is another location, like the Amazon, where rain forests are disappearing due to logging at a freightening pace. I hope WWF will extend the concept to the rapidly declining rain forests in the Amazon.

Why’s this so good? Because it leverages straightforward technology — GPS, Google Earth — to make the global significant on an individual scale. I remember when I was a kid my dad planted a tree for me in Northampton as part of a local Men of the Trees project (now the International Tree Foundation). Sadly the project was bulldozed to make way for a bypass, but hopefully that’s not likely to happen in Kalimantan. Certainly I could relate a lot more to one tree than a forest.

 

Google Earth Blog: Buy a Tree for the Rainforest – Get a KML

Leaving The Bad News Trail

You can understand sometimes why people think old, mainstream media don’t get it. As journalists we’re trained to really cover bad news. It’s a cliche, but it’s true, though up until recently only born-again types or folk with dandelions in their ears would say it: The way traditional media covers society is deeply skewed towards the bad. Take this RSS feed from the BBC UK news website:

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Admittedly, this was taken from a feed designed for Northampton, UK, readers (don’t ask why I subscribed to that particular feed. I guess I got nostalgic for a second.) And yes, this might actually tell us more about the Midlands than we’d like to know. But it strikes me as very distorted to have the last 12 new stories about death, robberies, fires and drugs. How reflective is that of society?

Until recently this question would be one of those which would elicit a response of shoulder-shrugging, and then some old hack like me would pipe up about how, yes, it would be lovely to write about nice stuff, but try getting that into the paper. The way newsrooms work is that bad stuff sells.

But things have changed. The newsroom has gone. Well, not gone, but it’s under threat, not so much from citizen journalism, which always struck me as a bit of an oxymoron, but from bloggers. We write about stuff that interests us, and people read us. Or not. But we aren’t governed by any particular agenda, and we have no heavy-breathing editor looking over our shoulder and telling us to sexy the lede up a bit. Or that our story will be spiked because no one died/cares/took their clothes off/was arrested/is famous enough/is American.

Why is this? Well there’s no doubt that scandal and strife sell. But the filtering process starts very early on; any journalist worth their salt will quickly develop a sense of what a story is, and will be composing the lede in their head even before the event has happened. If they’re really good, and have a good editor and broad enough brief, they might be able to write a positive story — a good guy does a good thing, a company turns itself around, a community grows — but the chances of that getting in the paper are slim alongside the opposite kind of story — a good guy goes bad, a company hits the skids, a community dies. Those latter stories need telling, of course, but as the BBC feed above shows, they tend to be the only stories that get told. Especially, ironically, when budgets get cut.

I don’t think that blogging is going to be as big next year as it is this year, in the sense that the number of people blogging will probably tail off. But there will be no shortage of readers, and commenters, for the simple reason that bloggers write about stuff the old media has long ignored. Old media thinks it’s learning this lesson by bringing the community into the news gathering process, by taking their photos, their writing, their videos, their comments. I’m not sure that’s right.

At least I don’t think it’s the only part of this. Old media should look for a way of using its reporting strengths and resources and tell those stories themselves: devote time and effort to finding stories that reflect the community, the good parts and not just the bad parts. They’re harder stories to tell and they run against the grain of every newsroom lesson we’ve learned, but if we’re serious about connecting to the communities around us, we need to understand them better. And that means taking the good with the bad.

Scams, Dialers And Urban Myths

When is a scam a scam or an urban myth?

Dinah Greek of Computeractive writes that Britain’s premium rate line watchdog is being inundated with calls from worried consumers about scams that turn out to be untrue.

One email warns of a scam that says people have received a recorded message on their phone informing them that they have won an all-expenses paid holiday. The email goes on to say people who receive these calls are asked to press 9 to hear further details and when they do are connected to a £20.00 per minute premium rate line. This will still charge them for a minimum of five minutes even if they disconnect immediately. It is also claimed that, if callers stay connected, the entire message costs £260.00.

Another email says some people receive a missed call from a number beginning 0709. It is then claimed that, if callers dial this number, they are connected to a £50.00 per minute premium rate line.

ICSTIS, the watchdog with a name that sounds like an unpleasant disease, point out that these emails are incorrect. But with the whole rogue dialers thing going on, people are scared. (What I like about this story is that the problem seemed to have started in my old hometown: “We believe these emails started off years ago from a neighborhood watch liaison office in Northampton who got the facts wrong,” an ICSTIS spokesman says. (This, based on my experience of that town, seems plausible.) Since then it’s blown out of all proportion: ICSTIS points out that “these scams just can’t happen. Premium rate tariffs of £20 per minute and £50 per minute do not exist – the highest premium rate tariff available is £1.50 per minute.”

Does the fact that we don’t really know what’s going on in our computer make us prey to these kind of myths? Ignorance, superstition and credulity rise in inverse proportion to our understanding of our environment. Do computers make us more superstitious?

News: More Broadband For Cute Sounding Villages

 I wrote a few weeks back in my column about how a village in Northamptonshire, England, overcame the failure of the national carrier, BT, to install broadband by building their own Wi-Fi network. Neighbouring villages have taken a different route.
 
The BBC reports that Middleton Cheney, Byfield and some other Northants villages will have access to a broadband service after residents were encouraged to sign online and written petitions by the East Midlands Development Agency.
 
Other villages which will be able to access the faster connection (sorry, but I love the names so I’m listing them here) are Hinton, Woodford Halse, Charwelton, Upper and Lower Boddington, Chacombe, Wardington, Thorpe Mandeville, Farthinghoe and Overthorpe.